CHENNAI: Life pre, during and after the pandemic can be essayed in three different volumes. Even as we come to terms with this, denizens of the world are engaging in conversations in the confines of their homes, and on WhatsApp groups and social media pages, about how these extraordinary times will, slowly and perhaps painfully, make way for a new normal. Handshakes might soon become a thing of the past, and sanitising hands, wearing N95 masks, gloves, and even a protective suit will probably be the new routine. So what does this mean? A regular restocking of personal protection equipment.
Currently, our daily gears are of two variants — either single-use PPE, or ones that can undergo disinfection for a maximum of ten times. This, in turn, implies a new monthly budget for PPE. But, our constant attempt is to look for ways to reduce expenses on these new gears, which means we have to opt for solutions that last much longer.
This is precisely what the scientists at the Virginia Tech India’s lab in Chennai have been working on — a carbon-based formula with disinfectant properties that last for over 20 uses, and thereby making it cost-effective for users. “We have been working on an anti-bacterial, antiviral and hydrophobic liquid that can be used to coat the outermost layer of N95 masks,” says lead scientist Dr Suman Jhajharia.
The group of five scientists working in the nano-particles division of the lab have spent over a year working on the formula. The COVID-19 pandemic presented them with an opportunity to put their findings to use.
“The solution does not have any adverse effects if inhaled. As only the outermost layer of the three-layered mask needs to be coated, there are lesser chances of inhaling the solution anyway. Having been tested for bio-compatibility, the solution is also non-hazardous to the environment. There are no lead-based materials used in the solution. Everything is carbon-based and hence will not have an adverse effect on the environment,” claims Dr Suman. Having laboured for a year, experimenting with multiple carbon-based substances, the team is convinced that their solution is ready to be launched in the market, as they await government clearances.
“Once launched, we are hoping to reach out to people working in essential services like law enforcement, sanitation and medicine, because they are at the forefront of fighting the disease, and they face the maximum risk of exposure. Eventually, we plan to branch out to military services and finally the common public,” says Dr Padmanabhan, director of Virginia Tech India.
The team at Virginia Tech India claims that once commercialized, N95 masks coated with this solution will cost up to Rs 5 above the price of the mask. Also on their agenda is to coat PPE suits and other sanitary materials with the solution.