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Student establishes startup to help clean the air

| Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The grass outside of Sorin College may not be greener than other places on campus, but the air may be cleaner thanks to junior Jake Drysdale and his startup company, Nanotech Smart Signs.

Photo courtesy of Jake Drysdale

Junior Jake Drysdale, pictured, founded a startup his senior year of high school which sprays banners with a coating that utilizes nanotechnology to remove pollution from the surrounding air.

The company uses nanotechnology to clean air and reduce pollution. Drysdale was inspired to improve the environment however he could after seeing the effects of climate change.

“I’m from St. Louis, but I’ve been hiking in Glacier National Park my entire life. I could see the effects of climate change on the glaciers,” he said.

This exposure to the visible effects of climate change motivated Drysdale to make a difference, and led him to establish Nanotech Smart Signs.

“It was literally a garage startup,” Drysdale said. “I founded it my senior year of high school.”

The company uses nanotechnology to speed up the natural process of photocatalytic oxidation, which reduces pollution, Drysdale explained.

“Basically what it is I do with this company is I’ll take ordinary outdoor vinyl signs an spray them with a NASA-used, proprietary nanotechnology coating,” Drysdale said. “This spray is a solution. It’s mostly water and a little bit is a nanoscale titanium-dioxide mineral catalyst. This catalyst, once sprayed on the sign, drys in seconds and binds to the sign over like two days. It’s on the sign, it rapidly accelerates this natural process called photocatalytic oxidation.”

This photocatalytic oxidation is the key process by which titanium dioxide helps reduce pollution, Drysdale said.

“Sunlight strikes [titanium dioxide] which acts as a catalyst to split apart water into different radicals that absorb and break down air pollution,” Drysdale said.

Though photocatalytic oxidation occurs naturally, it happens on a relatively slow scale in a natural environment. By utilizing this nanotechnology spray coating, Drysdale said his company can speed up the process. 

Drysdale said he is not the only one trying to use this nanotechnology to improve the environment; governments and companies around the world are using this technology.

“People are doing this in other ways around the world. In London they’re spraying this on the back of buses and delivery trucks,” he said. “NASA has all of their buildings coated with this at their Stennis Space Center, and the Miami Dolphins have their NFL stadium coated with it as well.”

Last April Drysdale coated and hung two signs outside of Sorin College which are cleaning the air.

“The banner signs outside of Sorin, they’re calculated to remove pollution equivalent to more than 500 car trips between Notre Dame and Eddy St. Commons every year,” Drysdale said.

Fr. Bob Loughery, the rector of Sorin College, lauded the Drysdale’s efforts.

“It seems small, but its important, especially since almost every hall could do this if they wished,” he said.

Drysdale is eager to install more coated signs around campus.

“It’s something I can throw together quickly,” he said. “If other residence halls are making new signs or banners I would love to have the opportunity to nanocoat those.”

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