Scientists have developed a new material that captures coronavirus particles and could transform the efficiency of face masks.
When used in a conventional face mask, the new material is about 93% more efficient at catching proteins, including coronavirus proteins, with little impact on breathability, research has found.
The University of Liverpool scientists behind the development are Professor Peter Myers, a research leader in chromatography, and Dr Simon Maher, a mass spectrometry expert.
They had been collaborating on high performance liquid chromatography processes where proteins ‘stick’ to the surface of the chromatographic support materials.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Professor Myers realised that reversing this process could provide a way to absorb proteins.
Specifically, it could absorb the protruding S1 spike protein which covers the outer lipid membrane of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the team explained in a paper published in the journal Nature Communications.
The researchers re-tuned the surface of the spherical silica particle they used for chromatography to make it sticky for the COVID-19 S1 spike protein.
At the same time, they increased the porosity of the silica particle to give it a very large surface area of 300m2 per gram – about the same area as a tennis court.
The Department of Chemistry and Electrical Engineering and Electronics team also increased the internal volume of the silica sphere to provide a large capacity to capture the virus.
The new material is at proof of concept stage and the team has shown it works in face masks in addition to air filters such as those used in aeroplanes, cars and air conditioning.
The group, which includes the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, also developed a method to attach the sticky particles onto the surface of a conventional face mask.
Professor Myers said: “This proof of concept research has only scratched the surface and whilst COVID-19 is no longer a global threat to our health, this material has the potential to be used in a wide range of applications.
“Our research team is looking at developing more advanced ‘sticky’ surfaces for a variety of bioaerosols including the new Covid variant BA.2.86 as well as influenzas and other deadly viruses such as Nipah.”