Saying goodbye to the warm summer months is a little easier when it also means that the war on mosquito bites is over. Not only are they itching irritation, but mosquitoes can spread dangerous diseases and viruses, but researchers at Brown University may have invented the perfect mosquito field: graphene-lined clothing.
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If you've been avoiding any and all of the scientific news of the last decade and aren't familiar with graphene, this is at first glance a marvelous material made of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a two-dimensional hexagonal lattice. It is lightweight but 100 times stronger than steel and is used in everything from wearable blood glucose patches, motorcycles with adaptive grip, and even mind-blowing optical illusions.
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But in an article published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States researchers at Brown University of Providence, Rhode, detail how graphene oxide fabrics which they developed to serve as a barrier against Toxic chemicals also protect carriers from mosquito attacks in two different ways.
It was initially discovered that mosquitoes could not generate enough force for their proboscis – which is the application they use to pierce the skin and draw blood – to penetrate the thin layer of graphene oxide. It acts as a kind of impenetrable forcefield for their attacks, but actually works in both directions. Mosquitoes are able to receive chemical signals that come out of your skin, signaling them for food nearby. But when the subjects wore a thin layer of cheesecloth protected with the extra layer of graphene oxide, not only the mosquitoes did not bite, but did not even land on patches of exposed skin. So, in theory, not only should you not be bothered by bites while wearing a graphene oxide suit, you should not even worry that mosquitoes are annoyingly buzzing around your head.
However, you will have to worry about the rain. The graphene oxide material used in this study was an effective mosquito repellent only when it is perfectly dry. When wet, its force on the force field was almost reduced. To work around this, researchers found that another form of oxygen-reduced oxygen was effective for mosquitoes when wet or dry, but changing the ingredients also meant that the material could no longer be breathed. In other words, you would be safe from mosquitoes, but you would also feel in a sauna.
While this is great news for those who want to avoid annoying but harmless mosquitoes, this is much more news from a global health perspective. The World Health Organization estimates that "millions of deaths every year" are caused by mosquitoes that spread various diseases to humans.
The next step for the research team is to find a way to stabilize the usual graphene oxide protective layer so that it is resistant to all conditions – wet or dry, while actually being comfortable to wear. If they can get it out, they may just have created the holy grail of camping clothing.