NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Could paper be the key to killing dangerous bacteria?

It appears so, according to researchers from the Rutgers University Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

In a recent study, the team created an “inexpensive, effective” method to destroy bacteria and sanitize surfaces through devices made of metallized paper that receive a high-voltage charge, according to Rutgers. Experiments suggested that these paper-based sanitizers can kill more than 99 percent of one kind of yeast species and more than 99.9 percent of the infamous E. Coli bacteria.

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“Preliminary results showed that our sanitizers can kill spores from bacteria, which are hard to kill using conventional sterilization methods,” Qiang (Richard) Chen, a co-author and doctoral candidate in the university’s department of plant biology, told Rutgers Today.

Here’s how it works: The paper contains thin layers of aluminum and patterns that ultimately act as electrodes, allowing for the production of plasma. That plasma is essentially a triple-threat of heat, ultraviolet radiation and ozone—which work to obliterate bad microbes.

The researchers claim that they are the first to use paper to generate plasma.

If this revelation were to be applied in the future, paper-based sanitizers could help produce self-sterilizing clothes, cleaning equipment for laboratories and even “smart bandages,” according to the researchers.

“Paper is an ancient material, but it has unique attributes for new, high-tech applications,” Aaron Mazzeo, an assistant professor at Rutgers, said.

From here, the team plans to test exactly how effective the new sanitizer is at killing spores. The researchers also hope to invent new procedures or technology based on how human and animal skill protects against microbes and bacteria.

The study grew from a desire to “create personal protective equipment that might contain the spread of infectious diseases,” like the 2014 Ebola out break, according to Rutgers.

Mazzeo earned a 2017 National Science Foundation grant that will provide for continued research.