Burrow titled his project “Cleaning the World with Sunscreen and Pencils,” because he proposes combining graphene oxide and titanium dioxide, which are used in pencils and sunscreen, respectively.
Burrow’s proposed combination is an improvement on commercial titanium dioxide “self-cleaning” paints, which are currently pretty expensive and not very effective.
The science behind titanium dioxide paints, generally, is that when sunlight hits them, their electrons get excited and interact with and break down other molecules, including pollutants. The idea is that you can use the paint on the outside of buildings to make them “eat smog.”
The problem, Burrow points out, is that sometimes the electrons won’t react with any other molecules when they’re in their excited state, and will rejoin the titanium dioxide. Graphene, the “wonder material,” however, could stop electrons from recombining with the titanium dioxide surface, forcing more reactions to take place. Adding graphene would make typical titanium dioxide paints much stronger.
Here’s how Burrow explains it in his projects’ slides:
Graphene itself is insoluble in water, though, which means it wouldn’t work in a water-based paint. But Burrow hypothesized that using graphene oxide would work, because it is water soluble, and titanium dioxide’s reaction to light would reduce it to graphene after the paint was applied on a surface.
Sure enough, Burrow’s experimentation proved titanium dioxide does reduce graphene oxide to graphene when light hits it. That suggests a paint combining the two would be stronger and more efficient than titanium oxide paints used today.
Burrow’s goal is to be able to see this new, stronger pollution-neutralising paint hit the market, making smog eating buildings more mainstream. He also suggested the titanium dioxide, graphene oxide combo could be used in powder-form to sanitize water.
“The project shows scope for easy implementation in rural and industrial areas, due to its ease of use, relatively cheap manufacture and efficiency,” he writes in his report.
Burrow is one of 18 incredibly intelligent teenagers who made it to this year’s finals. Google will announce the top project in September, and the winner gets a 10-day trip to the Galapagos Islands, a visit to the Virgin Galactic Spaceport, and $US50,000 in scholarship funding.
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