While there have been doubts and discussions over whether the arts and technology can ever co-exist, a team from the University of Sheffi eld, UK has come up with an innovation that not only shows that the two can co-exist, but also complement each other. Led by Tony Ryan, a professor in the Department of Chemistry, the team has produced what they call ‘an air cleansing poem’ titled In Praise of Air, written by award-winning writer, Simon Armitage.
The poem, which has been on display at Sheffi eld since 2014, has now reached the end of its exhibition and has removed an estimated two tonnes of nitrogen oxide from the surrounding environment. The poem is printed on specially-treated material, which is capable of purifying its surroundings through catalytic oxidation. By harnessing the power of a photocatalyst, the poem is able to use sunshine and oxygen to break down airborne pollutants. “When the light shines on the photocatalyst, the electrons in the material are rearranged and they become more reactive.
These electrons are then able to react with the oxygen in the air and break it apart into two oxygen free radicals. These then react with water to make peroxide which oxidises the pollutants, making harmless molecules that can be washed away,” explains Ryan. When asked why it was necessary to have a poem when they could have just used the empty paper, Joanna Gavins, a professor in the University of Sheffi eld’s School of English, says, “Scientists, such as my colleagues at Sheffi eld, are developing technologies to help us clean the environment, but it’s the arts and humanities that can help raise awareness of environmental issues and inspire people to adopt altruistic pro-environmental behaviours.” The team now hopes that the poem and its air-cleansing technology can be replicated on billboards and artwork in towns and cities across the world to help tackle pollution.
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