Taking a lesson from dolphins, pilot whales and other animals with anti-fouling skins, a multinational research consortium is using nanotechnology to create synthetic, chemical-free, anti-bacterial surfaces for ship hulls and other applications.
The surfaces can reduce infections caused by pathogens such as S. aureus and E. coli without the use of potentially harmful metal ions, nanoparticles, chemicals or UV radiation, say researchers at Singapore-based A*STAR's Industrial Consortium on Nanoimprint (ICON).
AkzoNobel Partners in Research
The anti-bacterial surfaces research is ICON's second industry-themed project and will involve A*STAR's Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) as well as AkzoNobel (UK), NIL Technology ApS (Denmark), Nypro Inc. (USA), Hoya Corp. (Japan), and other companies.
Singapore Polytechnic, Temasek Polytechnic and Ngee Ann Polytechnic are also working with the consortium partners, under a special arrangement.
Nanoimprint technology, a form of nanotechnology, is a simple technique developed by IMRE to make complex nanometer-sized patterns on surfaces to mimic the texture of natural surfaces. This gives the engineered material “natural” properties such as luminescence, adhesion, waterproofing and anti-reflectivity.
Learning from Mother Nature
"With millions of years of experience behind her, nature has produced some of the most rugged, adaptable life forms. Who better to learn engineering from than Mother Nature?" said Dr. Low Hong Yee, IMRE's Director for Research and Innovation and head of the consortium.
The project will demonstrate the versatility of nanoimprinting technology and its benefits to a wide range of industries, Lee added.
The ICON and nanoimprint research will enrich that being conducted in house by International Paint Ltd., said Steve Ferriday, Technical Manager, Worldwide Marine Foul Release. The new research “gives our own R&D an added dimension and provides us with alternative options on how our existing technology can be applied,” Ferriday said.
International Paint Ltd. is part of AkzoNobel, the world's largest global paints and coatings company. The company recently established its worldwide marine research laboratory in Singapore and says it is keen to explore how these surfaces might work in a marine environment.
‘Tremendous’ Industrial Applications
"Working closely with companies ensures that our R&D and expertise is translated at the earliest possible time and contributes value to the economy,” said Dr. Raj Thampuran, executive director of A*STAR Science and Engineering Research Council.
“Borrowing intimately from characteristics in nature represents some of the most frontier and innovative ideas in science and engineering. I am pleased that IMRE's research will help companies challenge difficult engineering problems."
The collaboration will enable the R&D partners “to leverage on their areas of expertise to investigate how bacteria attach to specially designed surfaces of different materials,” said Tang-Lim Guek Im of Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
“The industrial applications are tremendous and Ngee Ann Polytechnic is excited to be part of the team. Our student interns from various courses at the School of Life Sciences & Chemical Technology will also benefit from working on projects under the supervision of top researchers."
Established in September 1997, IMRE (www.imre.a-star.edu.sg) focuses on world-class materials science research. A*STAR is Singapore’s lead agency for fostering scientific research. A*STAR oversees 14 biomedical sciences and physical sciences and engineering research institutes, and nine consortia and centers.