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Virus killer gets supercharged
Date:1/11/2011

A simple technique to make a common virus-killing material significantly more effective is a breakthrough from the Rice University labs of Andrew Barron and Qilin Li.

Rather than trying to turn the process into profit, the researchers have put it into the public domain. They hope wide adoption will save time, money and perhaps even lives.

The Rice professors and their team reported in Environmental Science and Technology, an American Chemical Society journal, that adding silicone to titanium dioxide, a common disinfectant, dramatically increases its ability to degrade aerosol- and water-borne viruses.

"We're taking a nanoparticle that everyone's been using for years and, with a very simple treatment, we've improved its performance by more than three times without any real cost," said Barron, Rice's Charles W. Duncan Jr.-Welch Professor of Chemistry and a professor of materials science. Barron described himself as a "serial entrepreneur," but saw the discovery's potential benefits to society as being far more important than any thoughts of commercialization.

Barron said titanium dioxide is used to kill viruses and bacteria and to decompose organics via photocatalysis (exposure to light, usually ultraviolet). The naturally occurring material is also used as a pigment in paints, in sunscreen and even as food coloring.

"If you're using titanium dioxide, just take it, treat it for a few minutes with silicone grease or silica or silicic acid, and you will increase its efficiency as a catalyst," he said.

Barron's lab uses "a pinch" of silicon dioxide to treat a commercial form of titanium dioxide called P25. "Basically, we're taking white paint pigment and functionalizing it with sand," he said.

Disinfecting a volume of water that once took an hour would now take minutes because of the material's enhanced catalytic punch, Barron said. "We chose the Yangtze River as our baseline for testing, beca
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Contact: David Ruth
druth@rice.edu
713-348-6327
Rice University
Source:Eurekalert

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