Smart surfaces - Summer Science Exhibition 2017

21 June 2017

A free festival of visionary science and technology

Tuesday 4 July - Sunday 9 July

Smart Surfaces Summer Science Exhibition

The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2017 features 22 exhibits of cutting-edge, hands-on UK science , along with special events and talks. You can meet the scientists behind the research.

Have you ever considered what life would be like without antibiotics? With more bacteria becoming resistant to several drugs, even simple and currently easily treatable infections may soon be untreatable, even fatal, because they are resistant to antibiotics. This prospect is called the ‘antibiotic apocalypse’. Preventing infection happening in the first place, particularly in hospitals, is the best way to avoid this.

One way infections are transmitted in hospitals is by people touching surfaces - people touch contaminated surfaces in hospitals and then interact with each other, passing on bacteria. These ‘hospital-acquired’ infections are on the rise, so we need new strategies to beat them.

Here in the department, we are developing ‘smart surfaces’, surfaces made of materials that prevent infections being transmitted in hospitals via touching. We are creating antimicrobial and self-cleaning surfaces - light-active materials that kill bacteria, and surfaces that self-clean by repelling water (they are hydrophobic). As well as preventing infection, bacteria are unlikely to become resistant to our innovative smart surface technologies, reducing the chances of further antimicrobial resistance.

Our ‘super-hydrophobic’ self-cleaning materials can be used in many environments to keep surfaces clean, such as mobile phones, tablets, door handles, or even handrails on a bus or train. And the antimicrobial surface technology can be applied to many types of medical device, such as catheters, where repeated infections are currently difficult to treat because they are often caused by multi-drug resistant bacteria.  All of our technologies can be applied when materials are manufactured or at a later stage, for example in paint form.

Our research is moving us towards our new strategy – to prevent infections in the first place, rather than rely on treating them once they have already taken hold.

More information on the Summer Science Exhibition can be found on the Royal Society website.