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With remains of crustaceans against bacteria and viruses


The Institute for Material Sciences (ifm) at Hof University of Applied Sciences is doing research on antibacterial surface coatings. In the future, these paint compounds are going to be used in hospitals, doctors' surgeries or even in public transport systems in particular and will inhibit the spread of bacteria and viruses. For the first time, a natural substance, which can be obtained by the remains of crustaceans that has been little used so far, will help.

Jessica Wittmann (31) is a research assistant in the research project "hospital bed" at Hof University of Applied Sciences. Together with two colleagues, the industrial mechanic with a degree in materials engineering, who also holds a master's degree in applied surface and material sciences, has set herself the task of actively researching against a problem that is currently on everyone's lips worldwide:

By new types of paint coatings, the researchers in Hof want to inhibit the spread of bacteria and viruses on surfaces - especially in highly frequented and therefore hygienically critical areas.

Despite the name of the project, hospital beds are only one of many possible applications. "Although there are already coatings that have an antibacterial effect. However, these contain substances that have been heavily criticized for their effect on humans - take varnishes with nano-silver, for example. We want to replace these substances with skin-friendly natural raw materials. And ideally with the same or even a better effect," says Jessica Wittmann explaining her research approach.

A very special substance that has been found in some dental cleaning products, pesticides and medical devices is expected to help in this process: chitosan. This natural biopolymer is found in the shells of crustaceans and can have antimicrobial, antibacterial and antiviral effects. Obtained from the remains of crustaceans in a multi-stage process, it reaches the Hof laboratory in form of a white powder. The right methods for further processing, the correct dosage and, last but not least, the best possible incorporation into the surface coating are what Jessica Wittmann and her colleagues are then occupied with within of many test series. During this process, the researchers still have to deal with a whole range of unknowns:

"We don't know yet: Does chitosan work best as a powder, in particle form or otherwise dissolved? It is also unclear which dosage will be sufficient to ultimately achieve the best possible antibacterial effect," says Wittmann, who worked for four years in the development department of a well-known polymer specialist in Upper Franconia before joining the team at Hof University.

The question of dosage, i.e. how much chitosan is needed per square meter of surface area, can ultimately also decide whether the finished product actually finds its way into everyday life in hospitals, doctors' offices or buses - after all, the process of extracting the substance is quite complex and therefore expensive. So far, there are no empirical values for this, because the introduction of chitosan into coating materials is still in its infancy. "However, we hope that it can also develop its known effect in relatively small concentrations, so that industrial use will be possible later," says Jessica Wittmann optimistically.

The research project should be completed by the middle of 2022. It is under the technical direction of Prof. Dr. Jörg Krumeich, who is responsible for the area of materials engineering and surface technology in the Faculty of Engineering at Hof University of Applied Sciences. The project is funded by the Central Innovation Program for Medium-Sized Enterprises (ZIM). As an industrial partner, lacolor Lackfabrikation GmbH, a company experienced in the field of industry, supports the researchers from Hof University.

Source: Hof University