According to the university, the process, tested on a common grade of stainless steel, creates a nanotextured surface that appears to kill bacteria but appears to be unharmful to mammal cells, which opens the door for use of the textured steel in medical implants.
"This surface treatment has potentially broad-ranging implications because stainless steel is so widely used and so many of the applications could benefit," said Julie Champion, an associate professor in Georgia Tech's School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.
"A lot of the antimicrobial approaches currently being used add some sort of surface film, which can wear off. Because we are actually modifying the steel itself, that should be a permanent change to the material."
Researchers said they are still trying to understand the mechanisms at work, but they believe spikes and other very small protrusions created on the surface puncture bacterial membranes. But those surface features don’t appear to harm mammal cells, which are larger.