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New tap turns water into super-cleaning potion

Boffins add ultrasound and bubbly goodness

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Scientists in Southampton have been given a grant by the Royal Society to develop an ultrasonic tap head that makes water clean better.

By introducing bubbles and ultrasound to the water, the new nozzle developed by Professor Tim Leighton and Dr Peter Birkin ramps up the ability of the water to shift dirt and cuts down on wasted water and, ultimately, energy.

Both the ultrasound and bubbles travel down the water stream to the dirty surface and there the bubbles act as microscopic "smart scrubbers", seeking and entering crevices to remove dirt there using sheer force.

The Royal Society awarded the £250,000 Brian Mercer Innovation grant to Leighton and Birkin to make a commercially viable nozzle attachment that could be attached to normal hoses and taps.

Ultrasound is currently used in cleaning, but only in the form of baths which are restricted to what can fit inside them. High pressure water is often used to clean facilities such as abattoirs or nuclear plants but the new ultrasound tap uses less water – approximately 2 litres/minute compared to 20 litres/minute and less power – less than 200W compared to 2kW.

Additionally the bubbly vibrating water requires fewer additives, causes less damage than the high power jet and generates less runoff and aerosol (spray particles). The new nozzle's ability to clean at high and low settings means that it can be used for cleaning delicate things in food preparation.

"Ineffective cleaning leads to food poisoning; failure of manufactured products such as precision watches and microchips; and poor construction – from shipbuilding to space shuttles – since dirty surfaces do not bond," says Professor Leighton. "The impact in healthcare is huge; hospital-acquired infections, from instruments that aren't properly cleaned, cost the NHS £1bn per year."

The Brian Mercer award provides a grant of £250,000 to develop an already proven concept or prototype into a near-market product. ®

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