"Healthy" Materials in times of pandemic
Following COVID-19 related publications, materials are starting to receive informal 'health ratings' and a public discourse about 'healthy' or 'unhealthy' materials is emerging. Here are some of my thoughts on this matter:
In the recent months we have witnessed numerous publications dealing with the survive-ability of the COVID-19 virus on material surfaces. This is still an ongoing event and there are no definite conclusions. Nevertheless, speculations are high and a public discourse on this matter is emerging. There are many questions, so I wanted to shade some light on this subject and perhaps even inspire creative thoughts for the future.
Many health related aspects should be considered when choosing materials. Generally, the first will be the existence, or even better the non-existence of toxic, volatile or pollutant components in a material. Following with mainstream regulated materials, and usually ending with more advanced materials, which possess active attributes, such as antimicrobial materials that neutralize microorganisms.
Antimicrobial materials have been in use for many years, but the Corona epidemic created an urgent need to find broad protection solutions, which raised a new worldwide attention to these materials.
In this context, it is important to distinguish between the terms "antimicrobial" which describes general activity against microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and viruses, "antibacterial" which describes activity against bacteria only and "antiviral" which describes activity against viruses only. That is, not every material described as 'anti-something' will work against all kind of microorganisms, and even when described specifically "antiviral", it does not necessarily means it is actually effective against all kinds of viruses.
Some current publications are sharing successful results of new or improved antiviral material technology in elimination of the virus that causes corona disease. This is of course great progress, but still more trials, testing and professional collaborations are needed before reaching full implementation of such materials against the current epidemic.
Metal against Microbes
Antimicrobial materials are already in use in many fields such as medical, food, cosmetics, microelectronics and more. In many cases, antimicrobial materials based on one of three known antibacterial metals: silver, copper and zinc, which can neutralize microbes in contact due to their atomic structure. Number of interesting antimicrobial materials are available on Aharon Feiner Eden Materials Library online Collection, such as a silver nano-particle based additive for the textile industry (O4-00064) and anti-bacterial polymeric panels designed for use in sterile rooms (PL5-00047). Furthermore, the active work around antimicrobial materials in the last few months, tested the capabilities of existing materials and revealed a range of breakthrough material technologies, such as a biocompatible antimicrobial additive for polymers inspired by the human skin's defense mechanisms.
Imagining future applications
Alongside important consideration of material health values for emergency or life-threatening situations, it can be useful to consider the same aspects working in routine times as well, and looking at a wider range of applications.
We can imagine future ways of implementing antimicrobial solutions in new areas and in ways that may prove valuable for future crises.
For example, planning a cleaner, more hygienic future public spaces by incorporating antimicrobial components in architectural design. Additional fields of work that may benefit from the use and knowledge of antimicrobial materials may be the ones with secondary potential for contamination such as products and packaging for food and cosmetics, or maybe, any handle or hand-held object.
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*This article was first published on Aharon Feiner Eden Materials library's website