Last week while watching the BBC News, I saw a brief text report that said how a nanoparticle coating had been invented that could make clothes clean themselves just by exposing them to the sun.
I found this brief report shocking not because of how inventive or amazing a breakthrough it was, but because to my knowledge this invention occurred some years back.
The use of titanium dioxide in the form of nanoparticles that are used with textiles to create a “self-cleaning” mechanism is not new. The characteristic of TiO2 as a photo catalyst could hardly be described as an invention.
Even the humble Nano&Me, which I contributed to nearly three years ago and was aimed at those absolutely uninformed about nanotechnology, talks about reports of TiO2 used as a self-cleaning agent in textiles.
So, was this just invented as the BBC seems to indicate, or not? We have to say, no.
But maybe if we go to the ACS journal Applied Materials and Interfaces in which the research was published we can sort out how there is this confusion.
Just by reading the first sentence of the abstract, we get it. This is not just cotton treated with TiO2 but cotton treated with a mix of silver iodide (Agl) along with Nitrogen (N)-TiO2. This combination increased the photocatalytic activities of the material.
So, this is what I find so infuriating about coverage of nanotechnology. Couldn’t someone (besides me) have said that researchers had found a way of improving the photocatalytic performance of TiO2 in textiles so as to make their self-cleaning properties X times better than previous methods?
Again, it seems the answer is no.
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.