James Langer and Weihua Zheng were a couple of Ph.D. students when they discovered a highly reactive formula to certain toxic and unwanted chemicals in the air. The formula involved polyelectrolytes, which are polymers with a permanent electric charge. Coated on filter material, it not only removes toxic chemicals like ammonia and formaldehyde but also kills viruses, bacteria, and mold. A dye changes color from a vibrant magenta (pink) to yellow to signal filter replacement. NASA's focus is on vehicle and spacesuit air quality challenges, but the material also has consumer applications in HVAC, stand-alone air purifiers, and cabin air filters for passenger vehicles. A potential new application is self-sterilizing respirator masks for hospitals.
How we came across this:
Artwork by Margaret Ann Smith, website
Jason Viers and Trish McKuen were on planet Nepara ("odd" in Esperanto) for provisioning the TSCV Uhura. Viers and McKuen own the ship jointly (they stole it together; long story). The passengers were Aridians, desert-dwelling humanoids who have a high concentration of ammonia in their secretions. McKuen says she is sick of the smell and has a sinus infection because they carry a microbe for that asymptomatically. Veers says she ought to know; she's some kind of bug scientist. McKuen is walking fast down a dusty, wide, and hot shopping canyon and talking fast, too.
"And you know those steam-hookah whatsits they're always smoking because it makes them high? Well, the aft storage where they do that is growing black mold. By the way, I'm selling out and going to River."
"What's in River?"
"Hey," she stopped, "That's pretty sharp."
"It's pink," he said.
"Stinkin' right. I love pink."
Trish stepped out in the direction of the vendor's shop.
Jason hesitated, shrugged, and followed, thinking, "Nobody loves pink."
"Air filters," the vendor announced, waving a pinion at a vivid magenta stack, "Takes out the bad smells and the bad bugs; clean air, clean ship," it chirped. "You do have a ship," the bird asked, glancing at Jason.
"Yeah. We have a ship."
"What's in it?" Trish demanded.
"Polyelectrolytes. And a dye that turns yellow when they need replacement. So you never have to guess. Saves money."
The vendor considered.
"Two solar months, standard conditions."
"I need 30 frames at 20 inches by 25 inches by 1 inch delivered to docking bay 39A in an hour. He's paying," Trish said, pointing to Jason, who smiled.
"I'm paying," he agreed, reaching for his wallet.
You can buy them for your ship here
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