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The Shell Center for Sustainability's mission is to foster an interdisciplinary program of research, outreach, and education to address actions that can be taken to ensure the sustainable development of communities' living standards, interpreted broadly, to encompass all factors affecting the overall quality of life.


Novel Bacteria Fouling Control


Jun Lou, Ph.D., Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, Rice University
Qilin Li, Ph.D., Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Rice University

 Jun Lou 
Dr. Jun Lou
 Qilin Li
 Dr. Qilin Li
Project Background

The team's objective is to develop a novel bacteria fouling control strategy using surface topographic patterning. This method does not involve use of biocides nor does it require external energy input. Therefore, it has the advantage of being environmentally benign compared to other control strategies.

The scale and magnitude of the environmental and economical implication of biofouling is tremendous. Its impact ranges from fouling of water filtration membranes and naval ship hulls, interference with underwater sensors, clogging and corrosion of water distribution pipelines, transport of water-borne pathogen s, to contamination of food processing equipment, medical devices and biomedical implants. The crucial step to prevent biofouling is hindrance of the initial microbial attachment to the surface and inhibition of further biological growth. Currently, the most common strategy to control biofouling is through the application of coating materials that slowly release biocides, which introduce potential environmental hazards. Examples of highly fouling-resistant surfaces in the biological world such as shark skin and lotus leaf, both with micro- and/or nano-scale textured surfaces, suggest that surface topography may be an important factor in controlling biofouling. In addition, recent studies on both microbial (e.g., algal spores) and mammalian cells show that ordered micro- and nano-scale surface topographic structures significantly reduce cell adhesion. These results and the natural fouling-resistant surfaces suggest that manipulation of material surface topography may be a potential approach to biofouling control.

In this project, the team will first design and fabricate well-defined hierarchical topographic structures at two length scales and on different substrates to mimic natural fouling-resistant plant leaves.  They will then investigate the role of micro- and nano-scale surface patterns in adhesion of biological and non-biological particles, and to elucidate the effect of scale. Short-term and long-term adhesion experiments will be conducted with non-biological particles (polystyrene latex and carboxyl modified latex), model biological particles (latex coated with extracellular polymeric substances (EPS)) and biological particles (bacteria, diatom) using the control surface, the lotus leaf and the engineered surface patterns.

The team anticipates developing a series of hierarchical surface patterns using different materials that have the potential to control fouling by microorganisms of various sizes in the aqueous environment. They also expect to establish preliminary guidelines in design of environmentally benign surface topographic patterns for biofouling control for environmental engineering, navy and biomedical applications.   

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