To improve the time it takes to disinfect ambulances between life-saving uses, a collection of microwave engineers, infectious disease specialists and polymer scientists from Scotland’s University of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt University and the University of Strathclyde have turned to microwaves.

Specifically, the coalition created a microwave sterilization technique for disinfecting ambulances that uses electromagnetic waves, sensor beacons, antennas and a liquid film catalyst to heat and subsequently sterilize surfaces.

According to the team, the antennas featured in the system enabled the researchers to focus and direct the microwave radiation onto particularly high-traffic surfaces.

Source: Heriot-Watt UniversitySource: Heriot-Watt University

To ensure that the microwave beams effectively reached the surfaces to be disinfected and at the appropriate temperatures, Professor Nico Bruns, a polymer specialist from the University of Strathclyde explained: "My group used hen egg white proteins that are known to denature at 60° C. By looking at the solution turning white, we were able to show that the right temperature was reached to enable virus deactivation. This would be extremely helpful for an operator of the proposed system."

Reportedly, the new technique does not degrade surfaces as currently used disinfection methods that employ chemicals or UV light tend to, and the system can be operated remotely. Likewise, the time it currently takes to sterilize the vehicles — an estimated 30 to 40 minutes — can be significantly reduced, thereby minimizing the amount of time the vehicle is out of commission and unavailable to respond to an emergency.

Additionally, the team believes the technology can be used to disinfect hospital surfaces, tabletops at restaurants and other high-traffic public surfaces.

The new system is detailed in the IEEE Journal of Electromagnetics, RF and Microwaves in Medicine and Biology.

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