In Praise of Air

By Adrian Ong

In this BBC news article, a scientist partnered an award winning poet (both from the University of Sheffield) to come up with a giant poster that uses nanotechnology to “gobble up pollution”. The 10m by 20m “catalytic poem” poster is said to be “coated with microscopic, pollution-eating nanoparticles of titanium dioxide”.

Screenshot - BBC News - Nanotech Poster Absorbs Pollution

The scientific principle behind how the nanotech poster works is described in the article as:

“when light hits them they get excited, react with oxygen, and wash the pollution out of the air. It doesn’t get rid of all the nasties from traffic, but it will eat up things called nitrogen oxides, which you can’t see or feel.”

One of the things that was jarring when I came across this article was the choice of words the author used in this article for BBC Science & Environment. Visual imagery was used to highlight how the titanium dioxide helps remove atmospheric pollutants, even though verbs like gobble/eat up do not do justice to the photocatalytic property of titanium dioxide in the nanotech poster.

Nevertheless, the author made the idea of the photocatalytic property of the substance on the poster very palatable to readers who may not necessarily have advanced scientific knowledge on Chemistry. This may help in turn convince the public to part with a little more money when they print giant posters, such that their giant posters can help “wash the pollution out of the air”.

Another worthy note is that this prototype nanotech poster was the brain-child of a scientist and poet – the scientist felt that there is potential for substances like titanium dioxide to be used to remove atmospheric pollutants; while the poet felt inspired to write a poem entitled “In Praise of Air”, which helped to communicate the grave concerns of air pollution. This would be a good example of synergy between two fields that do not normally work together, but work together in a multi-pronged approach to raise awareness/solve a bigger problem.

If you are interested in reading more about this photocatalytic poem, do check out: http://www.catalyticpoetry.org/.

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