HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 52

Houston scientist taps nanotech in masks and air filters to use to prevent COVID-19 spread

University of Houston professor and entrepreneur, Seamus Curran, has pivoted amid the pandemic to use his nanotechnology expertise to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Integricote

For over a decade, Seamus Curran, a physics professor at the University of Houston, has worked on his nanotechnology coating substance. He first thought the innovation could be used on fabrics and textile coating, but he realized, once getting acquainted with the industry, he realized there wasn't an interest for a hydrophobic coating that could be used to prevent the spread of germs — at least, not yet.

"Like anything small startup company, one of the things you have to learn is you have to pivot — or you will die," says Curran, who had created his company Integricote (neé C-Voltaics) to take his innovation to market.

So pivot is what he did. Integricote now markets toward coating and sealing materials within the construction industry — wood, concrete, etc. — to protect from water damage and rotting. As Curran shares on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, business was growing steadily. That is until COVID-19 hit.

His construction coating business slowed, much like the rest of business across the country, and classes at UH switched to online. Curran used this newfound time at home to dig deeper into the details of the virus, when an idea hit him.

"I learned the virus traveled in a wet medium," Curran says, "(our coating) is hydrophobic, meaning we can stop it from penetrating any fabrics."

Curran worked to create hydrophobic facemasks using his sealant, and the technology was lauded and covered by various news organizations. He created a new company under Integricote, called Curran Biotech, and he started thinking of the next pandemic-proof innovation he could create using his sealant.

"The big thing for me when we were shut down was that people couldn't go to work or school. The country can't live that way — but you can't send people back to work in a world that's not safe," Curran says. "How do you create a safer environment? That's the thing that really got me going in the beginning in the summer. We looked at filters."

Curran, learning more about air filters than he ever cared to, realized that even the most expensive air filters can only protect from 10 to 25 percent of viruses. And most buildings' HVAC systems would have to be replaced completely to allow for these pricier, more protective filters.

"So, you'd have to replace your equipment and your filter prices go up — and you're still not blocking the virus," Curran says.

Curran Biotech's solution is a spray coating that can be used on air filters to make them more protected from COVID-19 spread.

Curran shared more about his nanotechnology innovation — as well as his excitement for being named one of MassChallenge Texas's finalist within the 2020 Houston cohort — in the episode of the podcast. You can listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Building Houston

 
 

Re:3D is one of two Houston companies to be recognized by the SBA's technology awards. Photo courtesy of re:3D

A couple of Houston startups have something to celebrate. The United States Small Business Administration announced the winners of its Tibbetts Award, which honors small businesses that are at the forefront of technology, and two Houston startups have made the list.

Re:3D, a sustainable 3D printer company, and Raptamer Discovery Group, a biotech company that's focused on therapeutic solutions, were Houston's two representatives in the Tibbetts Award, named after Roland Tibbetts, the founder of the SBIR Program.

"I am incredibly proud that Houston's technology ecosystem cultivates innovative businesses such as re:3D and Raptamer. It is with great honor and privilege that we recognize their accomplishments, and continue to support their efforts," says Tim Jeffcoat, district director of the SBA Houston District Office, in a press release.

Re:3D, which was founded in 2013 by NASA contractors Samantha Snabes and Matthew Fiedler to tackle to challenge of larger scale 3D printing, is no stranger to awards. The company's printer, the GigaBot 3D, recently was recognized as the Company of the Year for 2020 by the Consumer Technology Association. Re:3D also recently completed The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator this year, which has really set the 20-person team with offices in Clear Lake and Puerto Rico up for new opportunities in sustainability.

"We're keen to start to explore strategic pilots and partnerships with groups thinking about close-loop economies and sustainable manufacturing," Snabes recently told InnovationMap on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Raptamer's unique technology is making moves in the biotech industry. The company has created a process that makes high-quality DNA Molecules, called Raptamers™, that can target small molecules, proteins, and whole cells to be used as therapeutic, diagnostic, or research agents. Raptamer is in the portfolio of Houston-based Fannin Innovation Studio, which also won a Tibbetts Award that Fannin Innovation Studio in 2016.

"We are excited by the research and clinical utility of the Raptamer technology, and its broad application across therapeutics and diagnostics including biomarker discovery in several diseases, for which we currently have an SBIR grant," says Dr. Atul Varadhachary, managing partner at Fannin Innovation Studio.

This year, 38 companies were honored online with Tibbetts Awards. Since its inception in 1982, the awards have recognized over 170,000 honorees, according to the release, with over $50 billion in funding to small businesses through the 11 participating federal agencies.

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