Working through the website science-projects.com, 10 students from New York, Texas and Virginia joined three World War II veterans and a retired railroader from Virginia to report their research findings at the 105th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.
"Public buildings and especially schools are at the center of the epidemiological web for spreading common upper respiratory diseases that cost the U.S. hundreds of billions of dollars annually in lost productivity. While it has long been known that our coinage possesses the quality of being self-sterilizing, little previous thought has been given to making frequently handled surfaces such as railings, doorknobs, push-plates, desktops, and faucet handles in public buildings similarly self-sterilizing through the addition of rapidly effective agents," says Carl Vermeulen, a retired microbiologist who runs the website and is coordinator of the project.
In order to find additives that could create the most effective self-sterilizing surfaces, the students tested a variety of metal dusts, salts and other organic chemicals by mixing them into clear varnish. Once dried, varnished surfaces were tested for the speed in which they killed the microbes applied to them. The coating doped with cetavlon, a major detergent component of many shampoos that is completely safe for humans, killed the microbes within seconds of application. Even after 5 months the coating could still self-sterilize within 30 seconds.
"We found that the common shampoo ingredient cetavlon was especially effective, as well as having good dopant properties due to its being a detergent that mixes well with both aqueous and oi l-based coatings," says Vermuelen.
While they have shown that paints and varnishes can be made rapidly and inexpensively self-sterilizing, the group has yet to develop floor and furniture polishes that work. Students who may be interested in pursuing this line of research can contact Vermeulen through his website at science-projects.com.