A traditional party trick has pointed the way ahead for an electrifying scheme to fight asthma.
John Hughes of the centre for bioelectrostatics at Southampton University is leading research into creating a carpet backing to trap allergens, the microscopic particles that can cause asthma. Fibres in the backing will have an electric charge to attract and hold particles.
"A good analogy is the old party trick of combing your hair vigorously, then using the now charged comb to pick up and hold small items," he said.
The most common allergen to cause asthma comes from the tiny droppings produced by house mites found in carpets and beds.
"With adults, your nostrils are quite a way away from the carpet, but the problem is that infants tend to crawl around and put their faces on carpets a lot," Professor Hughes said. "The logic behind our technology is that if the allergens are anchored into the carpet, the infants won't inhale them."
He is using commercially-produced fibres which are primarily used for industrial filters and medical masks, and adapting these in carpet samples. "Preliminary tests have been very encouraging. We're assessing the anchoring characteristics using standard vacuuming, and also using techniques that would simulate a child breathing with its face right on the pile."
The two-year project is being carried out in collaboration with Tomkinson Carpets of Kidderminster. Experimental carpeting will be laid in households where asthma sufferers are being monitored.