Manfred the Baddie and clean air clothing
I recently won a number of free tickets to the Edinburgh Science Festival, courtesy of the Blogging competition. Sadly I haven’t been able to get to too many of the events, but last week managed a quick few hours in Edinburgh. My short blog piece will appear on the main site tomorrow, I think, but here’s a slightly longer version. You can follow the other bloggers on twitter via the hashtag #esfblog.
My kids were intially unimpressed when I told them that I had won some tickets to the Edinburgh Science Festival. One of the good things of being nearish to Edinburgh is that there is always lots of Festival action of one kind or another. We were already booked into to see Bang Goes the Theory on the last weekend, so in the absence of a concrete show example they were a bit, “That’s nice Daddy.” But their interest picked up when I told them that one of the events we could go to was run by John Fardell, author of “Manfred the Baddie“, which my daughter owns, and which we all enjoy very much. Manfred kidnaps scientists and inventors to force them to build amazing devices to help in his robberies and Fardell – an award winning illustrator – is superb at bringing these machines to life. Three of my kids and I travelled through to hear about how he got inspiration for his weird and wacky (but plasuible functional) inventions, and to help out design our very own story. And so it was that all the kids in the audience helped come up with a story and illustrations called “Squadalump Trouble”, all about how two brave, friendly monsters escaped from the fearsome Squadalump. Not much to do with science, you might argue, but all science starts with a bit of creativity, and the bigger our dreams and imaginations can be, the bolder our future science will be. I think with the evidence on show last week, our science future is safe in our kids’ hands.
The second thing that I went to see was a discussion of catalytic clothing by the inventors Tony Ryan and Helen Storey. There’s is an interesting story as Tony is an academic chemist and Helen is an academic fashion designer, and the discussion touched on how people from different disciplines can more effectively interact, and how academic science can be translated into rather more esoteric real-world applications if you start to talk to people with very different ideas about how things work. I think the main take home message was that it’s very much a case of personal chemistry, which is generally true for most collaborations – in general you need to hit it off to be able to work most effectively together. Also you need to be open minded about ideas.
The science bit in this talk was that by spraying clothing with titanium oxide nanoparticles you are able to remove gaseous nitrogen compounds from the air and ‘sequester’ them into aqueous nitrogen compounds such as nitric acid. The process works by using the TiO2 particles as a photocatalyst to enable the chemical reaction removing the gaseous pollutants from the air and turning them into aqueous products. They then can simply be washed away when you next clean your clothes. The nanoparticles themselves will be loaded on to clothes through washing powder. There wasn’t much discussion of the science of the delivery mechanism, which might be a bit of a stumbling block, but the main obstacle to market seemed to be that this is largely an altruistic project, and there isn’t much in the way of profit for the washing powder manufacturers. So it seemed that Ryan and Storey were having trouble getting a big industrial partner on board. The selling point is that we can remove significant amounts (on paper) of harmful polluting gases from the atmosphere just by going about our day to day business, which sounds good to me. One of the quotes from ryan was that four people wearing such catalytic clothing could ‘take out a car’, which sounds good to me.
I found the discussion very stimulating and it got me to thinking about what else you could do with it. I’ve been toying around with things one might be with paper microfluidics, and I think it could be possible to make a paper based gas sensor using this technology, possibly using paper printed electronics to do some of the readout. But then again, maybe I’ve been taking too many lessons from my kids on weird and wacky thinking.
Below: my kids helping design the “Squadalump Trouble” story with John Fardell.