Is it any wonder that the device you man-handle, eat with, sleep with, and yes, even take into the bathroom with you carries more germs than a public toilet? Despite a Stanford University study on the topic, published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology a couple of years ago, most mobile users still seem to be in denial about the veritable (and verifiable) filth on our smartphones.**
Well, maybe nothing can stop you from talking/texting/gaming/status updating from the toilet, but at least there's something that can help with the cellular hygiene (not to mention annoying finger-smudges). Turns out, there's a chemical that can basically turn smartphone displays into self-cleaning screens. That's no small matter, considering this piece of hi-touch tech is the part we hold right up against our faces.
Scientists say touchscreens could keep themselves clean if they were treated with titanium dioxide, a chemical commonly found in things like paint, sunscreen and make-up. All it takes are sun exposure and a little patience, as it requires about an hour of sunlight to work. This would be enough to spark a chain reaction resulting in free radicals, which break down the cell walls of bacteria and fungi and mess with their DNA.
"If you apply a thin coating of titanium dioxide to a glass surface such as a smartphone screen, the skin oils and fingerprints gradually disappear from the display by themselves," says Michael Vergöhl, a researcher at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Germany. Fraunhofer ran tests on a titanium dioxide–treated chair, throwing a ton of bacteria, moss, algae and fungi on it before leaving it outside. Then the researchers waited. After two years of exposure to bacteria (and sunlight), the chair came out pristine.
Of course, when it comes to gadgets, this would be much handier if indoor light could generate the same results. That's why the researchers are working on a breakthrough for that as well. It might be a ways off though, so in the mean time, seriously — wipe that sucker down once in a while, why dontcha? Or at least consider a product like PhoneSoap, a UV-light cleaning box that was Kickstarted like crazy recently.
**Did you know?
Part of the reason our devices get so disgusting is simply because of temperature. You've noticed how your phone warms up as you use it, right? Well, that's just a breeding ground for the nasties it comes in contact with. No kidding, along with stuff like streptococcus and diphtheroids, researchers have also found fecal matter and MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) — which is a flesh-eating bacteria, by the way (yikes!).
Think about that the next time you let someone use your phone, or you set it down on a public surface.
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