In their unending quest to improve day-to-day life, researchers have processed a common pigment into a form that could lead to new generations of self-sterilizing bathroom tiles and antifog mirrors.
Each year, the United States produces some 1.5 million tons of titanium dioxide, a powder that's widely used as a sunscreen and a white pigment for paints. In the past few years, chemists have also found that coatings of titanium dioxide can kill bacteria, catalyze the breakdown of dirt and toxic pollutants, and prevent water from building into tiny, fog-forming beads (SN: 3/21/98, p. 186).
But there's a catch. Materials containing titanium dioxide–whether installed in air ducts, toilets, or operating rooms–behave in these beneficial ways only when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Since only about 5 percent of sunlight and typical indoor light falls into the UV range, researchers often use UV lamps to activate these materials, says John T. Yates Jr. of the