Nanoscale plasma-activated aerosol generation for in situ surface pathogen disinfection

Nicholas S.L. Chew, Kiing S. Wong, Wei S. Chang, Chien W. Ooi, Leslie Y. Yeo, Ming K. Tan

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10 Citations (Scopus)


Plasma treatment constitutes an efficient method for chemical-free disinfection. A spray-based system for dispensing plasma-activated aerosols onto surfaces would facilitate disinfection of complex and/or hidden surfaces inaccessible to direct line-of-sight (for example, UV) methods. The complexity and size of current plasma generators (for example, plasma jet and cometary plasma systems)—which prohibit portable operation, together with the short plasma lifetimes, necessitate a miniaturized in situ technique in which a source can be simultaneously activated and administered on-demand onto surfaces. Here, we demonstrate this possibility by combining two nanoscale technologies for plasma and aerosol generation into an integrated device that is sufficiently small and lightweight. Plasma is generated on a carpet of zinc oxide nanorods comprising a nanoneedle ensemble, which when raised to a high electric potential, constitutes a massive point charge array with near-singular electric fields to effect atmospheric breakdown. The plasma is then used to activate water transported through an underlying capillary wick, that is subsequently aerosolized under MHz-order surface acoustic waves. We show that the system, besides being amenable to miniaturization and hence integration into a chipscale device, leads to a considerable improvement in plasma-activation over its macroscale cometary discharge predecessor, with up to 20% and 127% higher hydrogen peroxide and nitrite ion concentrations that are respectively generated in the plasma-activated aerosols. This, in turn, leads to a 67% reduction in the disinfection time to achieve 95% bacterial load reduction, therefore demonstrating the potential of the technology as an efficient portable platform for on-demand field-use surface disinfection.

Original languageEnglish
Article number41
Number of pages13
JournalMicrosystems & Nanoengineering
Publication statusPublished - 14 Apr 2022

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