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IIT-Guwahati researchers developed coating to help ordinary cloth masks fight Covid-19

A team of researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati (IIT-Guwahati) has developed a ‘Nanometer Thick Superhydrophobic Coating’ material that can be used to modify ordinary cloth or silk masks to improve protection against aerosol-driven infections like Covid-19 while maintaining comfort.

N-95 masks, also known as double masking, protect people from Coronavirus to a large extent, according to WHO guidelines. However, wearing them for an extended period of time can cause suffocation.

N-95 masks are also expensive, making them unaffordable for a large portion of the population. Instead, people use cloth and silk masks, which are less expensive and more readily available.

To address these issues and provide a safer, more cost-effective, and more comfortable alternative, IIT Guwahati researchers developed a coating material that transforms a common cloth mask into a hydrophobic mask that repels virus-laden droplets and prevents breathing difficulties even when worn for longer periods of time.

Another benefit is that these masks are adaptable and can be combined with other additives, such as antibacterial nanomaterial, to provide additional virus protection.

“Because a cloth mask is porous to aerosol, it can’t effectively prevent Covid-19 infections.” Although they are still preferable to not wearing a mask, “an improved version that would prevent the aerosol from entering or exiting the modified cloth mask was needed,” according to Arun Chattopadhyay of the Department of Chemistry and Centre for Nanotechnology at IIT-G.

“We worked on it based on the principle of the modified cloth repelling the aerosol while allowing air to flow through the mask.” “A simple hydrophobic molecule coating on the silk cloth worked well here,” he explained.

The findings were published in ACS Applied Bio Materials, a peer-reviewed journal.

With the help of an instrument called Gas Chromatography, the breathability was tested by measuring the oxygen permeation through the mask. The modified Eri silk mask reduces oxygen penetration by only 22% when compared to the natural Eri silk mask, whereas the reduction for N-95 is around 59% when compared to the natural Eri silk mask.

As a result, the modified silk mask is far more breathable than the N-95 mask while providing nearly identical protection from aerosol-driven infections.

The Eri silk, also known as the fabric of peace, is softer than many other silks or cottons and has the unique property of keeping cool in the summer and providing warmth in the winter.

“Eri silk fabric was coated with a biocompatible nanometre-thick coating of a chemical called octadecyl trichlorosilane to achieve hydrophobicity” (OTS). After bonding with the fabric, OTS becomes non-hazardous to health and the environment because it is a fluorine-free chemical. The good news is that the cloth/silk masks are still breathable after the nan-coating,” said Partho S.G. Pattader of IIT Guwahati’s Department of Chemical Engineering.

When a droplet lands on the modified Eri silk mask, it bounces back into the air rather than passing through the fabric and becoming soaked. According to the researchers, another advantage is that these modified Eri silk masks can be reused after being washed with household detergent and dried.

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