Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Nano Nano

A glass slipper on a blue backgroundMy jaw is hanging open. I'm wondering if the calendar somehow flipped to April 1 when I wasn't paying attention.

Why? Last night on BoingBoing I saw a story about sprayable liquid glass, a nanotechnology invented in Turkey and patented in German. Here are some of its attributes, as reported on the website

  • It's silica mixed with either water or ethanol (alcohol).
  • It has a major antibacterial effect because microbes that get on the surface can't reproduce easily.
  • Food production companies found that surfaces that usually needed to be cleaned with bleach could be sterilized with just hot water. "The levels of sterility were higher for the glass-coated surfaces, and the surfaces remained sterile for months."
  • In the home, spray-on glass would eliminate the need for scrubbing and make most cleaning products obsolete. Time for Procter and Gamble to rethink its business plan.
  • It's resistant to UV radiation as well, and so is being tested as a coating for monuments. I know some printing companies who might think it sounds pretty handy, too.
  • Because it's so thin that it's breathable and flexible, it can be sprayed on seeds and plants. Seeds protected by it germinate better than those without it; plants are protected from fungi.
  • The same applies to fabrics... so all clothing could be stain-resistant.
Imagine the uses something like this could be put to in hospitals, computer clean rooms and laboratories that require absolutely sterile environments. And I thought, so it will still be a while until this is available, right?

Wrong. According to the report, "It will be available in DIY stores in Britain soon, with prices starting at around £5 ($8 US)."

On the other hand, as BoingBoing commenter SolarSailor pointed out:
There has been a cascade of press releases in the last two days all saying the same things [about the product]. None of it is referenced and none refers to published scientific data. The company website has no reference material. However, "trials in a British hospital" are "promising" and sellers of cleaning agents are "worried" and may block sale of [the] product to prevent you, the deserving public, from getting your hands on this wonderfest.

I may be (actually hope I am) wrong, but this has all the hallmarks of a scam/marketing puff piece.

And an anonymous commenter who claimed to be a materials scientist raised what sounded like credible questions about how something like this could work.

Let alone whether it would cause lung damage when breathed.

So I'm not sure if this is a good technology or a bad one... or a technology that even works, or is somebody's wishful thinking... but it sure got my attention.


Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Spray it on seeds and plants...and then eat the plants that have been covered in liquid glass? I hope this is totally a scam; there's already too much weird science directed at the food supply.

elena said...

I'm with B-OG on the plants and seeds aspect of this: certainly sounds like a technology that would have unintended effects. (Butterflies? Bees?)
I'm also not looking forward to spraying my home and objects with liquid glass. Good technology: steam cleaners (no cleaning products needed besides water and heat). Suspicious technology: anything that relies too much on the concept of "sterile." Sterility has it's place (in operating rooms, and so on), but it is also often just ... sterile. And therefore not good for lifeforms. Sterility fantasies appeal to some deep-seated aversion impulse, the same one that makes people uncomfortable around mud, dirt, worms and all those good, necessary things. I can see my protest sign now: Don't be too quick to glass over the microbes!

Ms Sparrow said...

I'm glad that this technology seems to be far in the future --if it exists at all. It sounds like one of those boons that turn out to be an environmental disaster.