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Superomniphobia: A new age of PPE?

Emerging technology may change the way our protective gear is made

By Art Hsieh

We work in an industry that exposes us to a variety of biological and chemical hazards on a daily basis. From bloodborne pathogens to ethyl-methyl-bad-stuff, EMS and fire responders use a variety of materials to form a barrier that prevents absorption of the contaminant by the skin.

Problem is, some of the stuff we use can be cumbersome and exhausting especially when it comes to things like Level A hazmat suits.

Wouldn’t it be great if something existed that would repel all types of problematic contaminants, yet be lightweight, flexible and transparent to our daily routines?

We might very well be at the dawning of a new age of personal protective equipment. Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed in the laboratory a way to create a “superominphobic” material that repels any liquid, from water to oil, to very corrosive chemicals. An electrospun, cross-linked pattern fiber mesh will cause liquid drops to literally bounce off the surface.

Still very much in the infancy stage, the research results nevertheless promises to help revolutionize everything from stain resistant clothing to waterproof electronics, to protection suits that are light, flexible and don’t get in the way of mitigating a hazardous event.

Imagine a type of spray that could be applied to everyday items we use in EMS, allowing blood and other bodily fluids to roll off harmlessly, rather than adhering to the surface and creating a biohazard.

Consider how much non-recyclable trash we throw away after each call we run; being able to re-use certain items because they become easy to decontaminate could reduce our carbon footprint significantly.

It’s a long way from lab to field, but this breaththrough science has real application in our industry. While we don’t yet know the real world tradeoffs that generally accompany new science, the opportunity to transform some of the more mundane aspects of our job is exciting to consider.

About the author

EMS1 Editor in Chief Art Hsieh, MA, NREMT-P currently teaches at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. Since 1982, Art has worked as a line medic and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a published textbook author, has presented at conferences nationwide, and continues to provide patient care at a rural hospital-based ALS system. Contact Art at