IIT develops virus-filtering, antibacterial material for face masks

April 28, 2021 - India

Amidst rising corona cases in the country, Indian scientists have developed a virus-filtering, self-cleaning and antibacterial material that can be used to make face masks and other PPE equipment. The team at the Indian Institute of Technology Mandi has incorporated nanometre sized sheets of molybdenum sulphide into the fabric which makes all the difference.

The development has come from Dr. Amit Jaiswal, assistant professor, School of Basic Sciences, along with his research scholars, Praveen Kumar, Shounak Roy, and Ankita Sarkar. The research has been published in the journal of the American Chemical Society – Applied Materials & Interfaces.

Facemasks, which have become a default piece of apparel to be worn in public, are largely designed to act as a physical barrier between the wearer and the external environment. However, it is desirable that these also act as anti-microbial barrier to inhibit or kill pathogens. This is especially important in the case of reusable masks.

“Keeping the urgency of the pandemic situation and cost-effectiveness in mind, we have developed a strategy to repurpose existing PPEs, especially face masks, by providing an antimicrobial coating to these protective clothing/textiles,” said Jaiswal. For this, the research team has used such materials that are a hundred thousand times smaller than the width of the human hair to confer antimicrobial properties to polycotton fabric.

Jaiswal and his team have incorporated nanometre sized sheets of molybdenum sulphide, MoS2, the sharp edges, and corners of which act as tiny knives that pierce bacterial and viral membranes, killing them. “The ‘nanoknife’-modified fabrics demonstrated excellent antibacterial activity even after 60 cycles of washing,” said the lead researcher, which makes this an excellent way to reuse masks and reduce biological waste generation.

Jaiswal said that improperly disposed of PPEs are a serious secondary source of transmission, and having reusable antimicrobial masks can help circumvent this risk. The reusability of the fabric will also enable it to be integrated with homemade masks.

In addition to puncturing the microbial membranes, the nanosheets of molybdenum sulfide enable disinfection when exposed to light. Molybdenum sulphide exhibits photothermal properties, ie, it absorbs solar light and converts it into heat, which kills the microbes. “Within 5 minutes of solar irradiation, all the MoS2-modified fabrics showed 100 per cent killing of both E coli and S aureus,” said the scientist. Thus, merely hanging out the masks in bright sunlight can clean the mask and make it ready to wear again.

The researchers have developed prototypes of a 4-layered face mask using the MoS2 modified fabric. They report that these masks, in addition to killing microbes and being light-cleanable, can also filter more than 96 per cent of particles that are in the size range of the COVID virus (120 nanometres), without compromising on the breathability of the fabric, and could thus be a powerful tool to prevent the spread of coronavirus and other microbial infections.

“We expect that the impact of this innovation on society will be immense and immediate, considering the current situation of global COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jaiswal. The proposed materials can also be used to fabricate screens/sheets for creation of makeshift isolation wards, containment cells and quarantines for holding individuals who come in contact with pathogens.