U.S. Scientists Repurpose Hair Conditioner Ingredients to Capture Airborne Droplets in COVID Battle

U.S. scientists have found a way to repurpose ingredients used in hair conditioner in order to create a sticky surface that has the potential to capture airborne droplets, and they believe the ideacan be used to fight COVID and other diseases.

Agence France-Press (AFP) reported that the substance scientists have created can be applied to plexiglass barriers, effectively being able to capture respiratory droplets instead of having them bounce off and remain in the air as they do now.

Because COVID-19 is transmitted primarily through respiratory droplets, the spread of the virus is quicker when an infected person sneezes or coughs. AFP reported that the main way to rid an area of these droplets is to open windows and use high-filtration systems for the air, but scientists have developed another added level of protection.

Senior author of the paper published on Wednesday in the journal Chem, Jiaxing Huang, said: "Right now, plexiglass dividers are deviating devices; they deflect droplets. If a surface could actually trap droplets, then every single droplet effectively removed from indoor air would be a successful elimination of a potential source of transmission."

Huang and his colleagues came up with the idea of reusing PAAm-DDA, a polymer found in hair conditioners and other cosmetic products that is designed to lock in moisture. In their experiments, summarized by AFP, they found that after coating a plexiglass barrier with their created substance, the barrier captured nearly all aerosolized microdroplets and 80 percent of larger droplets.

It can be applied to a multitude of surfaces and can be easily wiped clean and reapplied, and scientists said it would not require more upkeep or cleaning than the non-coated surfaces.

It can even be applied to fabric surfaces, as AFP reported Huang saying that it can be used on low-touch areas such as walls or curtains, turning them into "functional devices" that would help capture even more airborne particles.

"We understood that the current pandemic may end before this concept is implemented," Huang said. "It may or may not be used now. But next time, when an outbreak like this happens, I think we will be better equipped."

The research is "an idea with proof of concept," according to Huang, but it has not yet approved it for use. However, the article summary claims it can be very useful and successful in the future.

"We demonstrate that a surface-agnostic, non-destructive, polymer-based coating can significantly enhance the capture of aerosols and droplets," the article read. "The strategy enhances the function of transparent protective barriers and can repurpose large areas of barely touched indoor environmental surfaces for droplet removal, eliminating these infectious sources from the chain of transmission."

Newsweek reached out to Huang, who said, "The base components in this coating are already used in [the] personal care industry." If it was approved to be developed as a product, Huang said he didn't see any "obvious hurdles from the material compositions."

"I think this is useful as a tool to reduce the indoor aerosol concentrations and to enhance the function Plexiglas screens, both help to cut down transmission," Huang said.

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Sara Commarota cleans the plexiglass shield at the AMC Highlands Ranch 24 on August 20, 2020 in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Scientists have created a substance that can be put on plexiglass barriers like this one, that will effectively trap respiratory particles in the air to stop the spread of COVID-19 and other airborne diseases. Tom Cooper/Getty Images