Researchers say slippery walls make it difficult for biting insects to rest

As the planet warms, outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases are becoming more common around the world. Traditional solutions include insect screens or chemical treatment – ​​but researchers at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering are trying a new angle: mosquito repellent paint.

The team, led by Kevin Golovin, assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, aims to develop new paint formulations that make walls – the two-winged insect’s favorite indoor resting place – inhospitable.

The project is one of five supported by the Global Engineering Seed Program (GESeed) on his first turn. The Catalyst Fund was established at the U of T Engineering Global Engineering Center (CGEN) support the development of community-based research that addresses critical challenges in Indigenous communities and countries in the Global South.

Mosquitoes are responsible for the deaths of at least 725,000 people each year, according to the World Health Organization, earning them the title of “the world’s deadliest animal” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the United States.

“It’s actually only female mosquitoes that bite humans and transmit disease,” Golovin says. “And that’s only when they’re hungry and looking for a blood meal, usually around dawn and dusk. The rest of the day, mosquitoes rest – and they like to rest on dark, warm, vertical surfaces.

Golovin was working on a mosquito repellent compound with Mark Rheault, an associate professor of biology at the University of British Columbia, when one of his students, doctoral candidate Letícia Recla, noticed that mosquitoes continued to slither on the sides of the chambers that housed the insects during controlled laboratory testing.

“We started thinking maybe they couldn’t grab it,” Golovin says. “So we started designing experiments where we changed the surface structure of the sidewalls to see when they couldn’t grab it anymore.”

The researchers found that if they took a piece of glass and changed its roughness, it eventually became smooth enough that mosquitoes couldn’t land on it.

“Covering all glass surfaces in all parts of the South is not a realistic option,” Golovin says. “So we want to take that same softness value and translate it into a paint that could cover the places mosquitoes tend to sit when they rest, forcing them to migrate elsewhere and away from humans when they’re resting. of their blood meal.”

Golovin has partnered with Loop Recycled Products, a Niagara Falls, Ontario-based recycled paint company that works to divert paint from landfills and incineration by sourcing unused paint and transforming it into a new product.

“We are currently trying to make the paint as smooth as possible. We are testing different additives with different concentrations and exploring several colors of paint,” says Golovin. “We go through this list of settings in order to have something that works on many different surfaces, including rough and porous surfaces such as brick.”

Once the researchers have created a commercially viable paint additive, the plan is for Loop Recycled Products to add it to their paint and distribute it to their partners in the Global South. The Ontario company is already present in developing countries through its free paint initiative, in collaboration with non-profit and humanitarian organizations.

Four other projects were supported by the GESeed fund in its first round:

  • Professor Jorg Liebeherr of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Edward S. Rogers Sr. is working with the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay on a large-scale, low-cost environmental monitoring system for smart agriculture.
  • Assistant Professor Jeff Brook (Dalla Lana School of Public Health, Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry), along with Professor Greg Evans (Chemical Engineering, ISTEP), Associate Professor Arthur Chan (Chemical Engineering), and Professor Jeffrey Siegel (Department of Civil and Mineral Engineering) works with Fort McKay First Nation’s Sustainability Department, AUG Signals Ltd., on cleaner air for an Indigenous community heavily impacted by energy development
  • Professor Chi-Guhn Lee (Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering) is working with Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Sensartics Private Limited on Optimal Irrigation Control in Environments Affected by Climate Change
  • Professor Moshe Eizenman (Institute of Biomedical Engineering) works with Dr. Myrna Lichter to revolutionize vision care in Indigenous communities

CGEN Program Manager Ahmed Mahmoud oversees the first round of GESeed. He says he understands the challenges of finding funding opportunities for projects that have not yet reached a certain level of technological maturity, especially if the approach is novel or unintuitive.

“The goal of GESeed is to provide seed funding to promising projects with high potential for social impact, allowing researchers to obtain the pilot data to prove their concept,” says Mahmoud. “By partnering with organizations, they can help evolve their products and ensure they are informed of consumer needs in the marketplace.”

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