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Biocidal Terrain
Hazmat Suit

“A surface coated in spiky polymer molecules destroys the flu virus at a touch,” Scientific American reported last month. This nontoxic substance does so by “gouging holes in a microbe's cell wall and spilling out its contents. The polymer molecules stay rigid because they are all positively charged and therefore repel each other, like strands of hair standing on end from a static charge. The spikes have sufficiently few charges, however, that they can breach bacterial walls, which repel strongly charged molecules. The polymer probably neutralizes flu because the virus has an envelope around it suitable for spearing.”

As interesting as the image of viruses getting speared and eviscerated may sound, what is even more interesting is the fact that this “experimental substance, which can be applied like paint, might complement other germ control methods used in public spaces such as hospitals and airplanes.” So if the oft-forecasted influenza pandemic should come, those same public spaces will function more as biohazard filters instead of as urban vectors for the virus.

Even doubly more interesting is contemplating what possible landscapes this spiky paint and those “other germ control methods” might bring about. In fact, one cannot help but be giddy when one is reminded of the ubiquity of bollards, concrete planters, ha-has, and other topographical imprints of the Global War on Terror on our public spaces. And this despite their generally objectionable aesthetics.

So setting aside for now any and all skepticism of the polymer's ability to significantly mitigate some future species-ending plague, might we expect biocidal fountains to proliferate soon: like CCTV cameras, littering your daily commute, and misting you from the moment you exit your house till you finally settle down on your office chair? How about so-called respiratory oases retrofitted for the Ebola virus? Or benches, bathroom doorknobs, subway handrails, playground swings, elevator cars, and even nauseatingly boring public sculptures fostering an entirely new level of public intimacy? Etc.

Instead of barricading ourselves in our homes and bedchambers at the first sound of an ominous cough, we may prefer to seek shelter in our public spaces. Instead of avoiding it, we seek the crowd.
  • Mark
  • December 3, 2006 at 2:04:00 AM CST
  • Nice post.

    It is not at all clear, however, that this would protect us from non-flu viruses. The polymer molecules destroy microbes by "gouging holes in a microbes cell wall."

    Problem: Viruses aren't microbes. Viruses don't have cell walls. As you mention, "the polyber probably neutralizes flu because the virus has an envelope around it suitable for spearing."

    I don't know whether this is unique to flu viruses or that other viruses have it as well. So, it's not clear whether or not it would work against something like, for example, HIV. Some contraception a condom coated in this polymer would be heh?

  • alban
  • December 3, 2006 at 9:52:00 PM CST
  • Thanks guy for your blog, i never really serach some blog on landscape because i am not obnly focus on..but i am fed up about those of architecture which only talk about architectural project...yours is veru interesting, and multiple...
    A french guy in South Korea,

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