Published: July 24, 2020

Fiona Bell inspects nanocoating in test tubeImagine a textile that cleaned itself, killing viruses and bacteria, and dissolving flecks of embedded organic material. Such a fabric could transform the safety and cleanliness of seating in planes, buses and other public spaces—a particularly appealing prospect given recent events.

Science fiction? No, actually. ATLAS PhD student Fiona Bell is helping advance just such a fabric this summer as part of a prestigious internship with Accenture Labs

The remarkable technology brings together an LED thread, just released in 2018, and textiles impregnated with a photocatalytic coating. When the millions of microscopic LEDs in the thread light up, they initiate a reaction in the coating that breaks down organic matter, killing bacteria and viruses in the process. The result is a fabric that is self-cleaning, anti-microbial and odor-free.

Bell’s role is to help find the most effective way to apply the photocatalytic nano-coating to textiles. Along with scientists and engineers from Accenture Labs, the team includes engineers, scientists and designers from around the country, along with interns from other universities.

“I am excited to be gaining experience working with a commercial lab,” said Bell. “I also hope this work builds bridges between ATLAS, Accenture and other labs involved in the project.” 

While Accenture is primarily known for its professional services consulting work, the company supports the development of emerging technologies through seven research hubs located in North America, Europe, Israel, India and China. 

In applying for the internship, Bell faced stiff competition, including students much further along in their graduate studies. “They like my personal research and how I work in a lab, which involves hours upon hours of tinkering,” said Bell, who recently won two CU Boulder awards for her bioplastics research.

The internship, which runs June 22 – August 21, would have taken her to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Instead, she’s collaborating with the Boston-based team remotely, working in the ATLAS Living Matter Lab, where she’s an associated researcher.