Traditional sterilization methods are no longer effective against all pathogens. By means of plasma, on the other hand, exceptionally stubborn bacteria stems can be killed off, as demonstrated by Junior Professor Dr Katharina Stapelmann from the Institute for Electrical Engineering and Plasma Technology. She has developed a sterilizer that is specifically suited for ridding medical instruments of germs efficiently, yet without damaging the material. As reported in the RUB's science magazine RUBIN, the process is also interesting for the aerospace industry. The article can be found at: http://rubin.rub.de/en/germ-free-space
Perfect fit for medical applications
Stapelmann designed the sterilization chamber as a drawer with a surface in DIN-A4 format to hold standard tablets for medical instruments. The drawer may also be used as a sterile container. "You can, for example, put a set that's going to be used in an appendectomy into the device, sterilize it and store the closed container in the cupboard right until surgery," explains the researcher. Compared with traditional processes, plasma sterilization is more energy saving, faster and does not require any harmful radiation or carcinogenic chemicals. Unlike autoclaves, which apply moist heat, the process can be deployed for synthetic components, and it does not damage metal items which an autoclave blunts within a short space of time. A prototype of the sterilizer is already available. What is now missing is an industrial partner who will make the product market-ready.
Germ-free in space
In order to prevent germs from Earth from getting into space, and germs from space from getting to Earth, it is standard practice to sterilize all aerospace materials. However, not all pathogens are destroyed by this multi-stage process. In collaboration with the German Aerospace Center, Katharina Stapelmann tested her method for metal screws which were riddled with the spores of the particularly stubborn bacterium Bacillus pumilis SAFR032. This bacteria stem has demonstrated the to-date highest resistance against traditional sterilization methods, such as autoclaves, chemical treatment or UV radiation. The plasma treatment, however, destroyed all germs within the space of only five minutes at a temperature of 60 degrees centigrade.
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