Student researchers turn to lotus plant to design fog-free personal protective equipment

Under the direction of Praveen Arany, Ph.D., associate professor of oral biology, students at the University of Buffalo School of Dental Medicine created free face shields and comfort bands as a type of personal protective equipment (PPE) with 3D printers that were eventually used by some 3,000 dental professionals in university centres across the US. However, first the students had to figure out how to prevent the shields from fogging up, which makes it hard for wearers to see.

Commercially available antifogging solutions found in eyeglasses and car exteriors were not suitable due to their potential to irritate the skin or cause sickness if inhaled or ingested. However, lotus leaves provided a eureka moment for the researchers.

After looking at several formulations of wax that would keep the PPE clear and non-toxic, the research team discovered that a combination of carnauba and beeswax created optimal results.

“With a couple of adjustments, the condensation just rolled off,” Arany said.

The researchers’ discovery is explained in a paper published in Peer J Materials Science and authored by students Succhay Gadhar, Shaina Chechang and Philip Sales, with Arany.

Although clinical professionals are currently not required to wear PPE, this could change if the spread of the new coronavirus variant, BA.2.86, results in healthcare settings adopting stricter cautionary measures.

“The design principles are there,” Arany said. “It’s something we could manufacture again if and when needed”.