A case of the spots: Anti-viral personal protective products

Waterproof composite polka dot film

The concept below was met with a variety of responses from laboratory staff.  They were invited to perform a sensory test by rubbing the polymer between their palms. I viewed this as something akin to Relational Aesthetics, where concern is not with an art object but between the idea and social context. Reactions varied from laughter, embarrassment, curiosity, acceptance.

At CMBD we have been working with five main ingredients to create a range of seaweed-biopolymer materials.

After experimenting freely with the physical properties of these ingredients, a systematic approach is now being undertaken to minimise the variables.

Marine Seaweed biopolymer ingredient physical attributes:

water- proof


heat sealable


tensile stretch/flexibility


Our team has now broadened to include colleagues who will be working to develop ideas mentioned in earlier posts e.g. anti-viral, anti-bacterial film for face masks and activated wound healing films.

The polymer preparation includes much waiting time. Today, whilst waiting I read the article; Antiviral Potential of Algae Polysaccharides Isolated from Marine Sources: A Review, Azin Ahmadi et al, http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2015/825203

The review states that marine algae are, “a rich arsenal of active metabolites with pharmaceutical potential, including anticancer, antitumor, antioxidant, antiviral.”

Further to this, marine algal derived polysaccharides are natural polymers which have antiviral properties which inhibit virus replication and the binding or internalisation of virus into host cells. Polymers named in the review inhibited mumps, hepatitis A, influenza B, and various absorption of viral STD’s; HPV & HIV.

I  recommended anti-viral polymers be developed as lubricant gels, condoms and underwear.

Peng Su and I brought my idea to fruition by developing a silicone free, anti-viral, marine algal polymer personal lubricating gel.

silicone-free, anti-viral, marine algal polymer personal lubricating gel
silicone free, anti-viral, marine algal personal lubricating gel

CMBD Staff member Kirsten Heimann forwarded a paper on an additional anti-viral as a suggested additive to the gel. The anti-viral is a protein that binds to sugars attached to HIV, it envelopes the protein and prevents it from binding to mucosal cell surfaces. It is also active against herpes viruses.

Alternative use for this lubricant can be as a base for hand sanitiser or ultrasound gel.

To make lubricant gels more socially acceptable they have been referred to as ‘personal protective’ gels.

Developing and Testing composite seaweed polymers

soaking the laminated polymer to test for water resistance

Last week the laminated seaweed bio-polymer films I prepared were sent for high resolution imaging to observe properties by bio-technologist Wei-Lin.

Samples of the laminated films were tested for water resistance by soaking in water.

The laminated films were water resistant on the surface but cut edges bled out. The polymer on the far left was the most resistant to moisture.

Laminating successfully resulted in moisture resistant films but full immersion resulted in bleeding at cut edges. I expect that handling properties, e.g. cutting, stitching, moulding, will be much easier with this reinforced material.

hacking craft techniques for science
Creating a film to seal polymer

The use of a craft cutter elicited both curiosity and amusement on the lab.

A craft cutter was used to create regular polymer film shapes. I laminated the shapes to stabilise the polymer before creating a composite film.  The regular shape allowed for observation of 20% polymer swelling and transfer of seaweed tannin. It was determined that room must be allowed for polymer swelling to inhibit polymer film buckling and cracking.

Peng -Su experimented with chemical cross linker to inhibit swelling but this was discovered to be unsuccessful.

Composite polymer pieces were soaked in water to test for water resistance
Composite polymer dots adhered nicely to skin and held their shape after immersion in water.

I am excited to experiment further with this water resistant ‘dotty’ film.

Gel film responds to ambient moisture

Making changes to the gel film formula;

As with other seaweed polymers the gel film responds to ambient weather conditions.  Moisture absorbed into the film during wet weather causing polymer ingredients to precipitate out of the film.

Peng-Su and I made more gel films adjusting ingredients and film thickness. These film were not successful possibly due to bad weather.

We discussed the addition of beneficial marine derived antioxidants to these films.





Trouble Shooting: Revisiting and Improving Polymers

Revisiting Polymers Experiment (a)

After making works with the seaweed ‘leather’*, I found that it behaved like natural seaweed in that it was susceptible to changes in weather.  Damp conditions made it fragile and difficult to handle. I wanted a stable and more resilient film.

We attempted to produce waterproof films by mixing and pouring polymers with different attributes. These resulted in cracked, dry or brittle films. To date we had not produced a ‘natural seaweed’ polymer film that was soft, flexible and waterproof.

Dual poured polymer: brittle

I decided to work with earlier material as a base and laminate it with other polymers rather than limiting experiments to mixing or pouring materials.

Failed poured dual polymer

Lamination is the process of manufacturing a material in multiple layers to achieve improved qualities; strength, stability, appearance, or other properties.

Laminations: producing water resistant flexible films

Laminating the materials produced strong and flexible films.

I will be working with the improved materials for future art projects and expect they will respond better to manipulation.

Revisiting Polymers Experiment (b)

A gel polymer film made with Peng Su was discarded because it was too sticky. After some weeks it was revisited and the stickiness was gone.  We made a larger batch that was dried longer and the film was perfected.

Discussion regarding applications of all these polymers followed (including those needing improvement) as all had merit.

*for seaweed ‘leather’ see earlier posts.