A high-tech, graphene-based film may help to shield people from disease-carrying mosquitoes, according to a new study funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Results show that graphene, a tight, honeycomb net of carbon, could serve as an alternative to chemicals now used in mosquito repellants and protective clothing.
Until this study, scientists hadn’t explored the possibility of using graphene-based materials for insect bite protection, according to the NIH. The use of graphene could eliminate the need for harsh or odorous chemical repellents while still protecting humans from mosquitoes carrying infectious viruses such as Yellow Fever, West Nile and Zika.
“These findings could lead to new protective methods against mosquitos, without the environmental or human health effects of other chemical-based repellents,” said Heather Henry, a health scientist administrator with the NIEHS Superfund Research Program.
The researchers in the study discovered that dry graphene film seemed to interfere with mosquitoes’ ability to sense human skin and sweat because the mosquitoes didn’t land and try to bite. By looking closely at the videos taken of the mosquitos in action, they noticed the insects landed much less frequently on graphene than on bare skin. The graphene film also appeared to provide a robust barrier between the elements and the skin. This also may have played a role in why the mosquitoes didn’t bite, although researchers aren’t entirely certain that this is the case.
“We set out imagining that graphene film would act as a mechanical barrier but after observing the mosquitoes’ behavior, we began to suspect they were not interested in biting,” said Robert Hurt, director of the Superfund Research Program at Brown University.
According to the NIH, Hurt began several years ago designing suits with graphene to protect workers against hazardous chemicals at environmental clean-up sites.
Graphene is invisible to the naked eye but “harder than diamonds, stronger than steel and more conductive than copper,” according to the NIH.
In published by The New Yorker, writer John Colapinto described said that researchers who studied graphene in the mid 2000s determined the material was “the thinnest material in the known universe” and “a hundred and fifty times stronger than an equivalent weight of steel.”
He also noted that graphene was “as pliable as rubber and could stretch to a hundred and twenty percent of its length.”
Graphene garnered much attention from scientists after Andre Geim, a physics professor at the University of Manchester, began experimenting with graphite and discovered graphene, a material that theoretical physicists had only speculated about prior to then, according to The New Yorker.
In 2010, Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, the Ph.D. student Geim worked with, won the Nobel Prize in Physics.