Clar selected for $125,000 grant to develop materials testing

Associate Professor of Chemistry Justin Clar will work with undergraduate researchers to assist the Consumer Product Safety Commission in standardizing methods used to characterize the release of nanoparticle-based coatings from various coated surfaces.

Justin Clar, associate professor of chemistry

Associate Professor of Chemistry Justin Clar is the recipient of a $125,000 grant from the Consumer Product Safety Commission to develop a standardized method to test the safety of materials.

Over the next year, Clar will work with undergraduate researchers to test the transfer of nanoparticle-based coatings from various surfaces, including things like drywall, hardwood flooring and plastics. They will use a surface-wiping method to simulate hand or skin contact and examine if the method can be effectively used to safely test different materials.

“The big goal is standardization. There are lots of methods to test the release of materials from surfaces but the results are divergent depending on the method used,” Clar said. “Having a standardized method makes it easier to compare results because everyone is using the same test.”

Manual wipe tests don’t yield reliable or standardized data for a number of reasons: the amount of pressure applied, the size of an individual’s hand, or even the way a hand is moved across a surface. The method Clar is testing removes those variables and “takes the guesswork out,” he said.

It involves attaching a sampling cloth to a weight and pulling it across a surface. The cloth is then analyzed to measure and characterize the nanoparticles released from the surface.

The commission wants to be able to apply the surface wiping method to a wider variety of materials and publish the wipe methodology with the International Standards Organization to standardize data received in materials testing. Clar’s research will investigate the release of metal oxide nanoparticle coatings from a variety of surfaces with different levels of roughness, porosity and chemical identity. The release rates and trends will be compared to data generated on the same surfaces using alternative sampling methods published through the National Institution of Occupation Health and Safety.

“The objectives of the research that Elon University will conduct are to determine applicability, feasibility, reproducibility, and reliability of the CPSC surface wiping method on surfaces beyond the previously examined lumber. The research will provide CPSC with information on characteristics of surfaces appropriate for the surface wiping method. The research will also investigate how changes in coating formulation (i.e., water or paint) influence release results,” according to the commission’s statement of work.

Clar will mentor at least two undergraduates in the research process this academic year. He plans to apply for extensions and introduce more undergraduate researchers to the project as it continues in future academic years.

The commission approached Clar for the research projects due to his research expertise in the field of nanoparticle release from surfaces and past research using the CPSC’s wipe methodology. Clar and undergraduate researchers Sydney Thornton ’20 and Sarah Boggins ‘20 co-authored papers in 2020 and 2021 testing the release of zinc oxide nanoparticles from surface-coated lumber using the wipe method and comparing it with other methodologies to show disparity in results gathered from different tests.

“The CPSC wipe methodology was again used by researchers at Elon University to understand how the nature of the initial coated surfaces (pristine vs. aged) impacted the coating release properties. Most recently, these same researchers compared the results of the CPSC method to others for simulated dermal transfer, namely the NIOSH Method 9012 “Elements on Wipes.” Critically, this analysis demonstrated that the CPSC method was able to detect differences in release based on surface characteristics and nature of the applied coating, where the NIOSH method was not. This analysis suggests the CPSC methodology may be a more reproducible and sensitive method to track release of materials from coated surfaces in relation to other hand wiping methods,” the CPSC statement of work said.