Who

Anyone concerned with eliminating bacterial pathogens including superbugs like MRSA.

What

A laser prepares to texture the surface of copper, enhancing its antimicrobial properties. (Purdue University photo/Kayla Wiles)

Bacterial pathogens can live on surfaces for days. What if frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, could instantly kill them off?

A one-step laser-texturing treatment was developed that could potentially turn any metal surface into a rapid bacteria killer just by giving the metal’s surface a different texture. The technique allows the surface of copper to immediately kill off superbugs such as MRSA. Metals such as copper normally have a very smooth surface, which makes it difficult for the metal to kill bacteria by contact. The technique might apply to metallic alloys that also are known to have antimicrobial properties.

A laser creates nanoscale patterns on the metal’s surface. The patterns produce a rugged texture that increases surface area, allowing more opportunity for bacteria to hit the surface and rupture on the spot. The laser-texturing has a dual effect: The technique not only improves direct contact but also makes a surface more hydrophilic. Giving orthopedic implants an antimicrobial surface would prevent the spread of infection and eliminate antibiotic resistance because there wouldn’t be a need for antibiotics to kill off bacteria from an implant’s surface. For implants, such a surface allows bone cells to more strongly attach, improving how well the implant integrates with bone.

Where

Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana

Why

Bacterial pathogens can live on surfaces for days. This technique instantly kills them off on common surfaces such as doorknobs. Due to the simplicity and scalability of the technique, it could easily be translated into existing medical device manufacturing processes.

When

The team is testing this technology on the surfaces of other metals and polymers that are used to reduce risks of bacterial growth and biofilm formation on devices such as orthopedic implants or wearable patches for chronic wounds. It is not yet tailored to killing viruses such as the one responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, which are much smaller than bacteria.

Watch a demo of the technique on Tech Briefs TV here. For more information, contact Rahim Rahimi, Assistant Professor of Materials Engineering, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the June, 2020 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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