International Space Station: Germs be gone!

Categorie(s) : Events, Innovation & Society, News, Research

Published : 6 February 2017

Long space missions present such a high risk of bacterial infection that astronauts spend 10% of their time cleaning! One of the objectives of the ISS Proxima mission (in which ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet is participating) is to study five advanced antibacterial materials on board. Because the bacteria cannot adhere to the materials, they simply end up elsewhere—like in active filters that eliminate them.

Three of the materials were developed at Leti, which possesses unrivalled knowledge of these types of surface deposits. The institute is working alongside ENS Lyon, CNRS, Saint-Gobain, and CNES on the experiment. The materials were placed in racks to protect them from vibration during launches and from accidental impacts during handling and exposure.


A fluorinated thin layer, organic silicon, and biopolymer

The first material developed by Leti is a fluorinated thin layer, originally created for microfluidics channels and resin deposition for optical components. The second material is a very hydrophobic organic silicon used to deposit nanodroplets by electrowetting (the material has already been transferred to an industrial partner). The third material is a biopolymer for implantable medical devices for human and animal health applications.

When the materials come back to Earth this spring, they will be quarantined and then characterized. Antibacterial surfaces are not uncommon. However, what is uncommon is experimenting with the surfaces in space. The results of the experiment could give Leti inroads into new applications, from elevator buttons to grab handles for public transportation.


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