Left: Scanning electron microscopy image of the network on a copper-sprayed surface. Right: Up-close image of nanowire. (Credit: Ames National Laboratory)

An ancient metal used for its microbial properties is the basis for a materials-based solution to disinfection. A team of scientists has developed an antimicrobial spray that deposits a layer of copper nanowires onto high-touch surfaces in public spaces.

The spray contains copper nanowires (CuNWs) or copper-zinc nanowires (CuZnNWs) and can form an antimicrobial coating on a variety of surfaces. This research was initiated by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the findings have wider-reaching applications.

First the surface needs to be cleaned and disinfected, then the reformulated copper ink solution can be applied. The ideal coating should be thin enough to be transparent. The ink can be diluted with water or alcohol to make it sprayable, and it works on plastic, glass, and stainless-steel surfaces.

The team tested two types of copper ink: CuNW and CuZnNW. Compared to a plain copper disk, both inks were just as effective at disabling the virus. The nanowires worked faster because of their greater surface area.

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