Researchers at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab (PPPL) have created a device capable of keeping surfaces continuously disinfected. The patent-pending invention, developed by Charles Gentile and Ken Silber, uses room-temperature plasma to disinfect surfaces without sanitizer or human labor.
The inspiration for the “cold” plasma disinfectant device came to Silber while thinking about the transition back to in-person lab work, which would involve touching a lot of surfaces.
“I thought, wouldn't it be cool if there was something that detected motion and when you were about to turn something on it would automatically spray Purell or some sort of liquid?” he said. “I called up Charlie, who I've worked well with before, and told him what I was thinking about. Charlie said, ‘Well I have perhaps a better idea.’”
Gentile’s idea? Applying cold plasma — a safe, natural disinfectant with a temperature of around 50°C — to common surfaces. Elevator buttons, vending machine buttons, grocery store surfaces, escalator handrails, and subway turnstiles could all be targeted.
The device could potentially replace other disinfectant methods, which the researchers say have their drawbacks. Disinfection with ultraviolet light can produce a shadow effect, which blocks some areas from being disinfected, Gentile explained. Chemical treatments, like hand sanitizer, can lead to health problems. But the biggest benefit of this technology could be its ability to disinfect continuously, saving time and labor costs.
Both inventors stressed that they were not the only ones working with cold plasma, nor do they claim credit for cold plasma’s applications. Instead, their pending patent is for a “novel deployment technique.”
“Our patent is on the idea of deploying plasma technology, low temperature plasma, in a novel way to disinfect surfaces,“ Silber explained. “The key to our pending patent is that we are doing it in situ, both on demand in some applications and continually in others.”
“There are other people and other groups that are doing tremendous work in their own way, and they also have patents on low temperature plasma technology,“ Gentile added.
For example, Drexel University medical school has worked to develop cold plasma to disinfect wounds. The substance’s applications are still being discovered, according to Gentile.
As for Gentile and Silber’s work, the University’s Office of Technology Licensing is “actively discussing how to move the invention from lab to market with multiple interested parties,” according to the PPPL press release.