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Aussie scientist invents paint to beat coronavirus

Nathan Vass, July 27, 2020 8:45AM News Corp Australia Network

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A cleaner at the Waverley Bus Depot on April 29, 2020 in Sydney, NSW wiping surfaces to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Picture: Getty Images media_cameraA cleaner at the Waverley Bus Depot on April 29, 2020 in Sydney, NSW wiping surfaces to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Picture: Getty Images

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An Australian scientist has created a new surface coating that makes coronavirus inactive, in what may be one of the biggest global breakthroughs yet in combating* COVID-19.

Dr William Ducker is from Canberra, ACT and has been based at Virginia Tech in the US for more than 10 years. His copper-based invention can be applied to doorknobs, light switches, shopping carts, dining tables, steering wheels, train seats – any common surface where the virus has been known to live and thrive*.

The coating has been shown to wipe out the virus on contact and may continue working for years once applied.

The Australian scientist’s invention has already been peer reviewed — which means other scientists have checked his work — and he is now looking for someone to invest money in the project so he can market the coating worldwide.

“This virus is a major problem and we need to take away its ability to infect a human cell,” Dr Ducker said.

“Breathing in the virus is the main thing, but we do need to be scared of touching things. If someone sneezes on a surface and you touch it and then you touch your mouth, in it goes.

“I wanted to create a coating that if the virus touches it, it will be inactivated. Working with the University of Hong Kong, we put droplets of the virus on a coated surface, then washed it off and tried to infect monkey cells – but the virus was no longer able to infect the cells after being in contact with the (coating).”

The results of the tests have been outstanding, Dr Ducker said.

When the coating is painted on glass or stainless steel, the amount of virus is reduced by 99.9 per cent in one hour, compared to the uncoated sample.

media_cameraA lab technician in a lab at Virginia Tech where Dr William Ducker created a surface coating to kill the coronavirus. Picture: Virginia Tech

The coating is made of cuprous oxide, which is essentially recycled copper pipes and wires.

Dr Ducker believes the virus is absorbed into the coating and then “denatured*”.

And even better news: the coating seems to work for long periods.

“It’s great, it does that all day,” he said.

“The coating will work all day.

“We think it could even last for years. Paint it on now, and we expect it will still be working this time next year.”

It also retains its ability to inactivate the virus after multiple rounds of being exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus* and then disinfection or after being submerged* in water for a week, based on the tests.

There have been many so-called breakthroughs since the pandemic began, some of which have since found to be ineffective in inactivating the virus or curing the disease it causes, COVID-19. This product has already been peer reviewed and accepted for publication in the American Chemical Society Journal of Applied Materials and Interfaces.

“Everybody is worried about touching objects that may have the coronavirus,” said Dr Ducker, who recalled that his wife questioned whether she should sit on a park bench during the pandemic.

“It would help people to relax a little bit.”

Dr Ducker’s specialty has been to focus on making films* that kill bacteria.

As the COVID-19 virus began to spread to the US a few months ago, he asked himself: “Why not make a coating that can eradicate* a virus, rather than bacteria?”

“We had to use our chemical knowledge and experience of other viruses to guess what would kill it,” Dr Ducker said.

media_cameraAustralian scientist Dr William Ducker, who is based in the US.

Amid COVID-19 restrictions, Virginia Tech granted special permission to Dr Ducker, his two PhD chemical engineering graduate students and another researcher from the university’s Department of Chemistry so that they could enter Virgina Tech labs to make the film and test its properties.

“It was an interesting experience,” Dr Ducker said.

“Almost the entire campus was shut down, and we were like ghosts wandering the empty halls of Goodwin Hall. But it was very exciting to have such a clear goal. I know that it was a difficult time for many people who were bored, unhappy, or scared. We were just focused on making a coating.”

Now, the Australian said he hopes to attract funding in order to mass-produce the film.

“People won’t have to worry as much about touching objects,” he said.

“It will be both practical and fear-reducing.”

Germ hot spots. Germs. Hand rail on train. media_cameraDr William Ducker and his team hope the paint could help reduce the spread of the coronavirus and help people feel less fearful about touching surfaces, such as handrails on public transport.

GLOSSARY

  • combating: fighting against
  • thrive: do well, flourish
  • denatured: destroy the properties that make something work
  • SARS-CoV-2 virus: severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, the name of the virus that causes the disease COVID-19
  • submerged: put under water
  • films: fine coating (to put on a surface)
  • eradicate: get rid of completely

EXTRA READING

Big COVID-19 questions and simple answers

Hand washing: how does soap work?

Too many dirty hands to be healthy

Vaccinations eliminate Rubella from Australia

QUICK QUIZ

  1. What is the invention?
  2. What does it mean to say that the research has been peer reviewed? Why is that important?
  3. Does the coating work once water has been on it?
  4. What work does Dr Ducker usually specialise in?
  5. What was strange about the university where Dr Ducker was working?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Flow Chart
What an amazing discovery! But how exactly does it work?

Read through the article carefully to find out how the product works.

Draw a flow chart to show how the coronavirus (which causes COVID-19) can be spread via surfaces without the coating.

Draw a second flow chart to show how the coating prevents the spread of the coronavirus via surfaces.

Use diagrams and brief sentences and labels in your flow chart so that it shows clearly how it will work.

Write 5 questions you still have about this product and how it works.

For example – Does it work on all surfaces?

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, The Arts – Visual Arts, Critical and Creative Thinking

2. Extension
Given the current pandemic situation of COVID-19, this invention will be very popular. But Dr William Ducker needs someone to invest in his product so it can be available worldwide.

Write a sales pitch to sell this idea to investors (usually people with lots of money) so that Dr Ducker can produce his product. In your pitch imagine you are speaking to a roomful of potential investors. Highlight the following points:

the current COVID-19 pandemic situation

how coronavirus can be transmitted via surfaces

how this product will help (how it will protect surfaces – you may like to use your flow charts from the first activity)

how do you know it will work (peer reviewed)

how much money you would need to produce the product

who the potential customers might be (where would this product could be particularly useful)

any other relevant information

When you have finished writing your sales pitch speech, practice reading it out as if you were delivering it to the intended audience. Use expression to help get your message across. When you are happy with your performance you may like to record yourself or present it in front of your class.

Time: allow 40 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and Creative thinking, Science, The Arts – Media, Drama

VCOP ACTIVITY
Verb adventures
With a partner see if you can identify all the doing words/verbs in this text. Highlight them in yellow and then make a list of them all down your page. Now see if you and your partner can come up with a synonym for the chosen verb. Make sure it still makes sense in the context it was taken from.

Try to replace some of the original verbs with your synonyms and discuss if any are better and why.

HAVE YOUR SAY: What would you like to invent to help beat the pandemic?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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