Imagine wearing clothes with layers of paper that protect you from dangerous bacteria.

A Rutgers-led team has invented an inexpensive, effective way to kill bacteria and sanitize surfaces with devices made of paper.

“Paper is an ancient material, but it has unique attributes for new, high-tech applications,” said Aaron Mazzeo, an assistant professor in Rutgers’ Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. “We found that by applying high voltage to stacked sheets of metallized paper, we were able to generate plasma, which is a combination of heat, ultraviolet radiation and ozone that kill microbes.”

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The researchers detail their invention in a study recently published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A video detailing the work is also available on YouTube.

In the future, paper-based sanitizers may be suitable for clothing that sterilizes itself, devices that sanitize laboratory equipment and smart bandages to heal wounds, among other uses, the study says. The motivation for this study was to create personal protective equipment that might contain the spread of infectious diseases, such as the devastating 2014 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.
The researchers’ invention consists of paper with thin layers of aluminum and hexagon/honeycomb patterns that serve as electrodes to produce the plasma, or ionized gas. The fibrous and porous nature of the paper allows gas to permeate it, fueling the plasma and facilitating cooling.

 

Todd B. Bates in a science communicator at Rutgers-New Brunswick Office of Public and Media Relations