IIT Gandhinagar researchers develop highly effective, environment-friendly and transparent anti-viral surface coating

Gandhinagar: Viral infections and its transmission are major public health hazards causing illnesses such as common cold, flu, measles, and chickenpox, among others. Sometimes these viral infections can also lead to serious, possibly life-threatening complications, such as dehydration, pneumonia, and other secondary infections. With an aim to address the root cause of this health concern, a team of researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar (IITGN) has successfully developed an anti-viral surface coating material that is highly effective on non-pathogenic viruses and is non-toxic, environment-friendly, and transparent.

The IITGN team who fabricated this novel anti-viral surface coating includes Prof Emila Panda, Associate Professor, Materials Engineering; Prof Abhay Raj Singh Gautam, Assistant Professor, Materials Engineering; Prof Virupakshi Soppina, Ramalingaswami Fellow, Biological Engineering; Nishaben M Patel, PhD student, Biological Engineering; and Ravi Teja Mittireddi, PhD student, Materials Engineering.

Many existing anti-viral coatings that seem to inactivate the viruses use copper or silver ions as the main element, but that makes them difficult to realise from the environment and design aspects because copper is a known toxic material and is non-transparent, which means it would be very challenging to use it for indoor usage. The design/aesthetic aspects are also hugely compromised due to copper and silver’s opaque nature, turning the coated surface non-transparent, which is often non-practical. Moreover, it is desirable to have simple preparation steps using a cost-effective, scalable fabrication technique for synthesising the anti-viral surface coating to ensure smooth transition from the laboratory scale to the industry.

Apart from having shown promising results with its anti-viral activity, what makes this innovative coating stand apart is the fact that it is transparent, non-toxic, and uses elements that are abundantly available in nature, making it environment-friendly too. While the non-toxic and essential elements of non-stoichiometric amorphous titanium oxide, having a higher presence in the earth’s crust, used in synthesising this coating make it sustainable and anti-viral; the scalable Radio Frequency (RF) magnetron sputtering fabrication technique at room temperature results into its cost-effectiveness. Besides, it is about 45 nanometer thick which can easily blend on all kinds of surfaces.

The coating is found to be durable, chemically stable and has strong adhesiveness with that of the substrate. This can be coated easily on different indoor and outdoor substrates, ranging from glass, metal, steel, silicon, and Teflon; which means it can be very useful to apply on objects like glass windows, glass doors, wooden and plastic furniture, doorknobs, handles, household appliances, electronics, vehicles, and automobiles, among others. After several tests of exposing this coating to viral strains (this could be termed as frequently touched surfaces), the team found that this coating’s anti-viral activity remains almost unaltered even after multiple washes. Thus, it can significantly contribute to improve the public health scenario by preventing viral infection and its transmission from frequently touched surfaces. Although the team has not yet tested the coating against Coronavirus.

Talking about the usefulness of this innovation in future applications, Prof Emila Panda, Associate Professor, Materials Engineering and Principal Investigator (PI) of the research says, “The overall results shown by this material (for surface coating) are promising. Being transparent, cost-effective (due to its abundance in the earth’s crust) and environment friendly, this holds huge promise for commercialisation in coming days. The team is currently in the process of testing this coating against a range of viral and bacterial strains. The next step could be to prepare this at a large scale.”

The team has also filed an Indian patent for this unique anti-viral surface coating and its coating process. Moreover, the manuscript based on this work has been published in the ELSEVIER’s Journal of Alloys and Compounds, an international peer-reviewed journal. It can be viewed at : https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jallcom.2021.160610

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