Super paper is coming to an industry near you: completely waterproof, antibacterial, and even glowing or magnetic sheets of paper have been created by a group of researchers in Europe.
Researchers of the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia have developed a process to make cellulose waterproof – a method that can be applied to finite cellulose sheets, and does not alter other properties, such as tactile sensing or size. Moreover, additional properties (i.e. magnetism or antibacterial activity) can also be added to the cellulose sheets.
What is Cellulose?
Cellulose is one of the most common compounds in nature. It is a polymer, made of the repetition of the cyclic D-glucose unit. Cellulose is the main component in fibers such as cotton, and in parts of plants such as wood, stem, and leaves.
Cellulose is widely employed in our everyday life, as many products we use are made of cellulose. They include paper, cardboard, fabric (cotton, linen), and packaging products, among others. For these applications, cellulose is normally extracted from wood pulp or cotton.
Different Applications and Related Problems
Cellulose is a substance which is relatively cheap, and easy to obtain, so, in recent years, many studies have been developed to fabricate various devices. Sensors, transistors, energy storage devices, and other devices have been devised based on cellulose and/or its derivatives. The nature of cellulose, and some of its properties, however, may limit the development of some of these applications. One of the main problems is the hygroscopic nature of cellulose: When it comes in contact with water, it adsorbs the water, or becomes adhered to the surface. This causes a change in its structure, worsening of some of its properties (i.e. mechanical, etc.) and, eventually, a degradation of the material itself.
Achieving Multifunctional Cellulose
To avoid this problem, several studies were performed to modify the cellulose structure, and make it a waterproof material while protecting the other properties of the cellulose. Several investigations also focused on the possibility of giving cellulose additional properties, such as antibacterial activity and magnetic behavior. These characteristics would widen even more the possible applications of cellulose.
Researchers from the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, (Genova and Lecce, Italy) have reported interesting results in this field – they have developed a method which can be used either to make paper waterproof, or take on other characteristics such as being antibacterial, glowing, or even being magnetic.
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