When most people think about reducing germs, they don’t think about the petals of lotus flowers.
But that’s exactly what’s inspiring University of Victoria researcher Rishi Gupta in his quest to create the perfect handwashing station for the prevention of COVID-19 and other viruses.
“We know – COVID or not – hand washing is the number one method to control the spread of any virus,” Gupta said.
The civil engineer and associate professor typically studies concrete and other materials, working to find more sustainable, stronger and long-lasting mixtures. But when the COVID-19 pandemic started, he got a call from an acrylic company in the Fraser Valley asking for his help to make germ-resistant washbasins.
The concept was a pipe dream until federal funding arrived for innovators finding COVID-19 solutions. Now Gupta and a team of researchers are working at the University of Victoria campus, testing different metals and materials and modelling various designs in hopes of creating self-cleaning, anti-viral washbasins for use in public spaces, both during and after the pandemic.
While it may feel out of place to talk about lotus flowers in the context of hard metals and plastics, it’s nature that provides the best examples of hydrophobic material. The petals of lotus flowers don’t just resist water, they repel it.
“After it rains, the surface is completely pristine. It looks as if it’s been painted,” Gupta said. “If you look closely at the surface of the lotus leaf it actually has a very smooth surface which doesn’t allow things to stick to it. It’s called the lotus effect in science.”
Gupta and his team hope to replicate that effect with the material used in the basins. That property has to be studied closely – as in microscope closely – in order to see how water behaves on a given metal or material. The team is also investigating which materials are the most pathogen-resistant.
While the team is still in the discovery phase, the basins, once prepared, will be tested with a corona-equivalent virus and if all goes well, these washbasins could become fixtures in public spaces.
“The idea, simply, is even if you can install 20 washbasins in high-traffic areas, that’s a success story,” Gupta said. “We need to plant the seed in peoples’ minds to think about having these basins at entrances and exits.”
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