Stephen Michielsen, a textile researcher at North Carolina State University, has come up with light-activated fabrics that can stop pathogens in their tracks. Working with colleagues at LaamScience, Michielsen has found a way to transform ordinary cotton, nylon, polyester, and just about every other common textile into wearable weapons that could eradicate 99.9 percent of viruses and some bacteria in less than an hour.
Michielsen's clothes are coated in a nano thin layer of light-absorbing chemical dyes that grab atmospheric oxygen and convert it into toxic, highly oxidizing forms. The toxic blast lasts only a second, but that's long enough to rip unsuspecting viruses and bacteria apart while leaving human cells unharmed. Michielsen hopes to use the technology to develop self-sterilizing hospital sheets and pathogen-killing masks. He also hopes the fabrics will give hospitals another tool to combat the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant microbes, especially health care–associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.
Right now, Michielsen uses fairly high-intensity 5,000 lux of visible light, about the equivalent of standing in the shade on a sunny day, but he is trying to improve the technology so that it will be effective even in the brightness of a well-lit hospital room.
Michielsen expects the technology will most likely see the light of day in the next few months. Its first destination? "We're starting with the upholstery in the waiting room," he says. "That is, unfortunately, where a lot of people get sick."