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Poetic nanotech poster eats air pollution

An experimental poster created with an air-purifying nanotech formula is currently scrubbing pollutants out of the atmosphere in England.

In Praise of Air
This poem is more than meets the eye. Linda Bussey/University of Sheffield

A collaboration between a poet and a scientist at the University of Sheffield in England has hatched what may be the world's first air-scrubbing poem. The 65-foot tall poster has been installed on one of the university's buildings, where it will be in residence for a year.

What makes this poster different from others is the material it's made from. It has been treated with a nanotech formula containing titanium dioxide particles. Mixing with sunlight and oxygen helps the material react with nitrogen oxide pollutants, breaking them down into harmless substances and cleaning the air in the process.

Writer Simon Armitage composed a poem for the poster titled "In Praise of Air." The university describes it as "smog-busting." Tony Ryan, the professor behind the nanotech, says, "This poem alone will eradicate the nitrogen oxide pollution created by about 20 cars every day."

Ryan hopes the poem is just the first step in a larger roll-out of treated posters. He says it would add about $170 to the cost of a regular advertising billboard to turn it into an air-scrubbing workhorse. While the one poem at the university won't have a major impact on air cleanliness, thousands of pollution-munching billboards could start to make a difference.

This isn't the first time Ryan's nanotech creation has made the news. He's been working to have it added into laundry detergent to turn clothes into pollution-fighting apparel as part of the Catalytic Clothing project. Combine the two efforts and we may someday see a pollutant-neutralizing billboard advertising a pollutant-neutralizing laundry detergent.