Virus fighting surface coating for aircraft being tested in space

23 February 2024


A University of Queensland (UQ) developed antiviral surface coating that protects against COVID-19 and other existing and emerging viral and bacterial transmissions is being tested on the International Space Station.

Researchers from UQ’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN), in partnership with Boeing (BR&T- Australia) have

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developed an antiviral surface coating to protect passengers and crew in aircraft from pandemic threats.

It has been launched on to the ISS for testing for the second time, after its initial test launch in 2022.

The product was created using polymers which inactivate viruses transmitted through coughing, sneezing or saliva.

This versatile chemistry can be readily redesigned to target emerging viruses and aid in controlling future pandemics.

AIBN’s Professor Michael Monteiro said when it was conceived in 2016, the initial purpose of the antimicrobial coating was to help protect space missions from infectious transmissions.

The coating also targets the COVID-19 virus.

“However, after the COVID-19 pandemic, we modified the coating’s formula so it could also target the COVID-19 virus if it is present on a surface,” he said.

“Not only is this product environmentally friendly, inexpensive and industrially scalable, we can also tailor the chemistry if we need to control future pandemics.”

During the 2022 ISS tests, two identical sets of objects from aircraft including a seatbelt buckle, fabric from airplane seats and seat belts, parts of an armrest and a tray table were chosen with only one set receiving the antimicrobial surface coating.

To promote microbial growth, space station crew members touched both sets of objects every few days to transfer microbes naturally occurring on human skin. No microbe samples were sent to the station for this experiment.

Building on that experiment, this one will look at how the coating performs in space by investigating its efficacy and durability against aerosol-deposited microbes, touch-deposited microbes and general crew interaction.

This will be done using six sets of hardware, placed in four different locations on the ISS classed as “high touch” areas. This hardware will be made up of samples from five different kinds of materials.

Some samples are coated with the polymer, while some are not and will act as controls.

The experiment is scheduled to run on the station until April and just before it returns to earth, the astronauts will swab the surface of the samples, and those swabs will be sent for analysis.

UQ and Boeing have collaborated on a broad portfolio of joint research and development projects since 2003.

In 2017, the Brisbane-based Boeing Research & Technology engineers relocated to UQ  in a first-of-its-kind partnership for the company’s Asia-Pacific region.