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An international research team led by RMIT University has developed a virus-killing surface made of silicon covered in tiny nanospikes that skewer viruses on contact. Lab tests with the hPIV-3 virus showed that 96% of the viruses were either ripped apart or damaged to the point where they could no longer replicate. This breakthrough could help control disease spread in hospitals, labs, and other high-risk environments. The material’s promise for preventing the transmission of potentially dangerous biological materials was highlighted in the top nanoscience journal ACS Nano.

The nano spiked surfaces were manufactured at the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication, using a smooth silicon wafer bombarded with ions to strategically remove material. The resulting surface is full of needles that are 2 nanometers thick and 290 nanometers high, inspired by the wings of insects that have a nanoscale spiked structure to pierce bacteria and fungi. In this case, the viruses are much smaller than bacteria, so the needles must be correspondingly smaller to have any effect on them. The research team led by RMIT Distinguished Professor Elena Ivanova has years of experience studying mechanical methods for controlling pathogenic microorganisms.

The process by which viruses lose their infectious ability when coming into contact with the nanostructured surface was analyzed by the research team in theoretical and practical terms. Computer simulations were carried out by researchers at Spain’s Universitat Rovira i Virgili, while practical experimental analysis was conducted at RMIT’s Microscopy and Microanalysis Facility. The findings showed that the spike design was extremely effective at damaging the virus’ external structure and piercing its membranes, rendering 96% of viruses incapacitated within six hours of contact with the surface. The potential practical application of this research in high-risk environments like laboratories or healthcare facilities could significantly enhance containment measures against infectious diseases.

The study’s first author, Samson Mah, who completed the work under an RMIT-CSIRO Masters by Research Scholarship and is now working on his PhD research with the team, expressed his excitement about the practical potential of the research. Implementing this cutting-edge technology in environments exposed to hazardous biological materials such as laboratories and healthcare facilities could greatly improve containment measures against infectious diseases, creating safer environments for researchers, healthcare professionals, and patients. This interdisciplinary and multi-institutional collaboration involved researchers from RMIT, URV (Spain), CSIRO, Swinburne University, Monash University, and the Kaiteki Institute (Japan), supported by the ARC Research Hub for Australian Steel Manufacturing and the ARC Industrial Transformational Training Centre in Surface Engineering for Advanced Materials.

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