Michigan Tech scientist honored for antibacterial material innovation

22 March 2013

Microbes lurk almost everywhere, from fresh food and air filters to toilet seats and folding money. Most of the time, they are harmless to humans. But sometimes they aren’t. Every year, thousands of people sicken from E. coli infections and hundreds die in the US alone. Now Michigan Technological University scientist Jaroslaw Drelich has found a way to get them before they get us.
His innovation relies on copper, an element valued for centuries for its antibiotic properties. Drelich has discovered how to embed nanoparticles of the red metal into vermiculite, an inexpensive, inert compound sometimes used in potting soil. The copper-vermiculite material mixes well with many other materials, like cardboard and plastic, so it could be used in packing beads, boxes, even cellulose-based egg cartons. And because the cost is so low—25 cents per pound at most—it would be an inexpensive, effective way to improve the safety of the food supply, especially fruits and vegetables (News Item Michigan Tech, 18 March 2013).