Made from a metal organic frameworks (MOFs)/fibre composite, the material builds on an earlier study where the team created a nanomaterial that deactivates toxic nerve agents. With some small manipulations, the researchers were able to incorporate antiviral and antibacterial agents into the material.
The result is a reusable bifunctional fabric that is effective at neutralising chemical as well as biological threats, making it something of a rarity. Its creators believe it could be used for face masks and other protective clothing, claiming the material can be restored to its original state through a simple bleach treatment. The work is published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS).
“Having a bifunctional material that has the ability to deactivate both chemical and biological toxic agents is crucial since the complexity to integrate multiple materials to do the job is high,” said corresponding author Omar Farha, an expert in MOFs and a member of Northwestern’s International Institute for Nanotechnology.
Farha describes MOFs as “sophisticated bath sponges”, nano-sized materials designed with a lot of holes that can capture gases, vapours and other agents similar to how a sponge captures water. In the new composite fabric, the cavities of the MOFs have catalysts that can deactivate toxic chemicals, viruses and bacteria, and the porous nanomaterial can be easily coated on textile fibres.
According to the researchers, the material is scalable, as it requires only basic textile processing equipment already widely used across industry. When incorporated into a facemask, the material should be able to work both ways: protecting the mask wearer from threats in his or her vicinity as well as protecting individuals who come into contact with an infected person wearing the mask.