If you thought ordinary bubbles are just part of a stream of water from your tap, think again.
Scientists in England have discovered how to put them to work in a more important way.
As a cleaning agent.
Using a patented device called Starstream, they infuse ultrasound into a jet of regular cold water – a process that turns the tiny water bubbles into micro-scrubbers with bacteria-killing properties that can clean surfaces and other objects.
The question is: Why? I mean, surely your household detergent does the job just fine, right?
Tim Leighton, Professor of Ultrasonics and Underwater Acoustics at the University of Southampton, explains how their innovation improves upon the existing process: “We wanted to build some kind of micro-scrubber that can clean without bleach and detergents, and can get into crevices and cracks. So we found these gas bubbles underwater – balls of gas that normally just sit there spherically under water. But if you hit them with a sound field, you can make their surfaces ripple. And you get such high shear and rubbing along the surfaces of these ripples that it can clean very effectively.”
Indeed, lab tests have shown that the Starstream technique removed biological contaminants from medical instruments.
In achieving this, the team says it could reduce our dependence on traditional detergents, as well as helping the environment.
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In addition, if the technology is incorporated into regular taps, it could combat antibiotic and anti-microbial resistance.
Leighton continues, “If you can clean effectively, as we’re doing here, you can stop bugs from ever entering the body. And if bugs never enter the body, the person doesn’t get an infection and you don’t have to use these antibiotics and anti-microbial agents. You’ve got a whole different pathway for tackling this anti-microbial resistance catastrophe.”
In fact, the team claims that just six seconds of hand-washing with Starstream, cold water, and without soap is as effective as 20 seconds of washing in traditional warm, soapy water.
Backed by a 2011 Royal Society award, further testing is ongoing with the team’s current prototype. The goal is to attract further funding that will help miniaturize the technology and make it a viable new tool for health providers and the public.