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by Mike Zazaian September 18, 2006 - 10:51am, 1 Comment

A potential candidate for smart napkin-ism

Researchers at Cornell University have developed a biodegradable napkin that uses nanotechnology to detect bacteria and viruses.

The napkin, currently in development, would contain numerous antibodies to biohazards and harmful chemicals that would change color when the napkin comes into contact with harmful substances. Developed by Margaret Frey, Assistant Professor of Fiber Science and Apparel Design at Cornell, such napkins could be useful at hospitals, factories in which food is produced, and other such places in which sanitation is critical. Said Fray:

It’s very inexpensive, it wouldn’t require that someone be highly trained to use it, and it could be activated for whatever you want to find. So if you’re working in a meat-packing plant, for instance, you could swipe it across some hamburger and quickly and easily detect E. coli bacteria.

In collaboration with other Cornell faculty, Frey developed the napkin’s nanofibers using the proteins biotin and streptavidin. By incorporating these into a polymer made from corn, the nanofibers could be easily implemented in paper napkins for mass production. Such nanofibers measure only one billionth of a meter across, about the size of three atoms stacked on top of each other.

Supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, Frey’s smart napkins are still a few years away from being completed. Frey and other Cornell researchers continue to experiment with various color-changing methods by which the napkins would indicate contamination.

We’re probably still a few years away from having this ready for the real world,” said Frey, “but I really believe there is a place for this type of product that can be used by people with limited training to provide a fast indication of whether a biohazard is present.

[Cornell Press Release]