September 12, 2006

News Brief: Cornell Profs Researching Hazard-Detecting Napkins

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In the wake of the fifth anniversary of 9/11, detecting biohazards and chemicals such as avian flu, mad cow disease or anthrax may be a wipe away.
Cornell researchers are developing an easy-to-use biodegradable napkin able to detect and signal biohazards and chemicals quickly by a color change or similar effect.

“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,” said Margaret Frey, the Lois and Mel Tukman Assistant Professor of Fiber Science and Apparel Design, in a press release.

Frey reported the research yesterday at the American Chemical Society’s national meeting in San Francisco.

Using nanofibers containing antibodies to chemicals and biohazards, the absorbent wipes would signal the presence of the substances by changing color or another effect.

Profs. Yong Joo, chemical and biomolecular engineering and Antje Baeumner, biological and environmental engineering, have worked with Frey to develop nanofibers with platforms made of biotin (vitamin B7) and the protein streptavidin. Using a corn-based polymer compound in the nanofibers would allow them to be incorporated into conventional paper products.

The researchers are still developing how the biodegradable wipe would signal the presence of a biohazard or chemical, be it by changing color or through another method.

Additional support for the research has come from the National Research Initiative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service.