filters coated with carbon nanoparticles resist
By Laura Sanders
nanoparticles called buckyballs may keep water
flowing through filters, new research shows.
As water passes through treatment
plants, communities of bacteria called biofilms
sometimes stay behind and gum up the works,
a harmful process known as biofouling. Biofouling
costs the United States billions of dollars
each year in equipment damage, contamination,
energy loss and medical costs stemming from
bad water, according to the Center for Biofilm
Engineering at Montana State University in Bozeman.
In the new study, researchers
led by Claudia Gunsch at Duke University in
Durham, N.C., found that bacteria don't stick
nearly as well to water filter membranes that
are coated with buckyballs. The researchers
ran bacteria-laden liquid through treated or
untreated filters and then counted how many
bacterial communities stuck. After three days,
the buckyball-treated membranes had an average
of 16 to 18 bacterial colonies per 17 square
centimeters, the team reports in the March 5
Journal of Membrane Science. Untreated
membranes had too many bacterial colonies to
count. The researchers don't yet know how buckyballs
do their antimicrobial magic.
More research is needed before
buckyballs can be used in water treatment plants.
"The main drawback is that we don't know
the effect of nanoparticles in the environment,"
BIG EFFECTS START SMALL
Groupings of buckyballs,
which are carbon-based nanoparticles, coat the
filter membrane on the right but not on the
left (topmost group is about one micrometer
wide). Researchers found that bacteria will
be less likely to plague the membrane on the
right, offering a potential tool for water treatment.
Credit: Duke University