In the COVID-19 era, the arcane term ‘fomites’ has become increasingly familiar. Fomites are objects, like doorknobs and table tops, that hold and passively spread disease. 

We have all become used to wiping down surfaces. Dr Graham Christie and Dr Ljiljana Fruk, researchers in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology (CEB), had a better idea: engineering surfaces so any viruses that landed on them couldn’t stay alive long enough to be transmitted.

Working in collaboration with Professor Stuart Clarke of the Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry as well as Professor Peter Fryer and Dr Zhenyu Jason Zhang from the University of Birmingham, they set out to design anti-viral surfaces based on materials that would deactivate the viruses. In the process, the researchers also set up a special testing lab within CEB.

The embedded facility turns out to be useful for companies as well, which is where Cambridge Enterprise’s Consultancy Services team has been able to help. Cambridge Enterprise supported the lab’s work testing materials for eight companies, including one that is developing face-coverings with an anti-viral coating.

As well as following industry testing standards, the facilities at CEB aim for coronavirus applicability.

We follow the industry standard for testing for viruses on material (ISO18184:19) but we made some critical adaptations to give it more relevance. For instance, we conduct ‘splash tests’ with the virus, to mimic how droplets reach a surface through things like sneezing or coughing. Our lab is also set up to use mammalian coronaviruses in testing. Although many of the materials we test will have general anti-viral properties, this is the class of viruses the whole world is watching.

Dr Graham Christie, Researcher, Department of Chemical Engineering and Biology

Annual Review 2021

This Consultancy Services case study is featured in our Annual Review 2021. Learn more about some of the exciting projects we have been working on and our financial performance for 2020-21.