Chemical Free water! Published by the RSC.

Dear editors, authors and reviewers of “A chemical free, nanotechnology-based method for airborne bacterial inactivation using engineered water nanostructures“,

It was with great interest that I read this paper recently published by the Royal Society of Chemistry in Environmental Science: Nano. The authors summaries their findings very nicely in the introduction .

Herein, we describe a novel, nanotechnology-based, air dis-infection technique using Engineered Water Nano-Structures (EWNS) generated via electrospray. These nanoscale particles possess unique physicochemical and biological properties. They are highly mobile due to their nanoscale size, remain suspended in the air for hours, contain reactive oxygen species, and interact with and inactivate airborne bacteria. More importantly, this is a chemical-free and toxicologically benign method, which can be used to decrease the risk of airborne infectious diseases in a wide variety of environ- mental settings.

I was fascinated to learn that water is, in fact, not a chemical! And thus I retract all criticism that I have previously levelled at pedlars of the phrase “chemical free”. I am sure that other bloggers, who have made similar complaints in the past will soon follow suit.

Furthermore I would like to congratulate the authors of the paper on the £1,000,000 they will soon be receiving from the RSC for their discovery of a chemical-free material.

Yours Sincerely,

Dr Mark Lorch


  1. The price for chemical free material is the first thing I thought of when I saw the article. No contradictions there. Please post the response if/when you get one.


  2. Incredible from an academic article written by chemists and published by the RSC! This is the sort of misconception you’d expect from younger children/lay people/the general public/advertising and marketing executives and/or journalists with degrees in media or the arts……… 🙁

  3. Dear Mark
    Thanx for your note and kind words about our recently published paper. I assure you that we had no intention here to demonize chemistry or chemicals. On the contrary I believe that we owe so much to chemistry for the quality of life and many advancements in the 20th century.

    In this paper we simply state the fact that only water was used nothing else for this anti microbial approach. However I hope u also agree that in the 21st century we need to develop chemicals and advanced materials In a sustainable way and we should look at the time of product development of any possible environmental and public health implications. The 20th century modus operanti “put a chemical/ material in the market” and worry cleaning the mess 30 years later is not a cost effective and sustainable approach and our society paid a huge toll in many instances ( ie PCBs, asbestos, DDT, etc)

    Let’s take chemistry to a new level and safeguard environment and public health at same time. I’m sure we can do it

    Philip Demokritou

    Sent from my iPad

    On Nov 30, 2013, at 7:40 AM, “Mark Lorch” wrote:

    Dear Prof Demokri,
    I read with interest your paper on antimicrobial nano sized water particles. However I was dismayed to see you describe it as chemical free.

    I and many other chemists take exception to the use of this phrase as an advertising slogan. As it is suggests that there is something inherently wrong with chemicals. We feel that the phrase feeds a fear of chemicals. Furthermore the RSC itself has also been very critical of the phrase.

    I have written a short open letter on my blog. I would welcome a response from you as to why you decided to use the ‘chemical free’ terminology.

    Finally, I would like to say that, with the exception of the ‘chemical free’ phrase I thought the paper was very nice. And I hope you are able to develop the technique further.


    Dr Mark Lorch

  4. Dear Philip,
    Thank you for taking the time to responds. I do very much appreciate your efforts to generate clean, sustainable chemistry. However, by using the phrase ‘chemical free’ I worry that you are playing to an audience who quote the chemical failures (such as DDT) without appreciating how most of our modern world is built from chemistry’s successes.

    Many chemistry bloggers and others besides have long battled against chemophobia typified by phrases like ‘chemical free ‘ and so it is rather disheartening to see it appearing in a journal from a respectable publishing house.

    As I said in my direct letter to you, I did like your paper. I hope the science in it gets the positive attention it deserves.

    Best regards,


  5. Georgios Pyrgiotakis says:

    Hi Mark,

    I am the leading author of the paper and I think I should also contribute my opinion in the topic you raised. I just want to clarify that it is my personal opinion and not necessarily represent the opinion of all the authors.

    Indeed I agree with you that the term “chemical free” is an utopic and far-fetched idea. However, in our article we mention the term chemical free as the lack of the need to add any chemicals (including water) to achieve the airborne bacteria inactivation. As you probably have experience yourself in any other case you manually have to supply some chemicals; either by spraying them in the air, or by using the on surfaces. Such a method require a constant supply of chemicals that in their majority can have some minor or more serious health effects.

    On the contrary the method we described is a complete self sustained technology that collects the water required to work from the atmosphere directly. It can work like that without the addition of chemicals indefinitely, at least in principle. More specifically in the manuscript we mention:

    […] The source of the liquid is water vapor from the surrounding air, condensed on a Peltier-cooled electrode, maintained at 6 °C.This eliminates the need for a continuous supply of water […]

    In this regard the editors, the reviewers and the authors agreed that it is a chemical free method as it clearly eliminates the need for any chemicals: everything is collected by the air. This can be very important in developing countries that are facing pandemics of airborne diseases and access even to the fundamental chemicals for air disinfection is almost impossible.

    I also need to add that in the particular paper we recognize some of the technology limitations as compared to the more traditional methods and chemicals. For us however, the elimination of the need for a constant supply of chemicals is a huge advantage. We hope that we will further develop the technique in order to make it to achieve better results and make it more competitive with existing technologies.

    Thank you for bringing this to our attention and for giving us a chance to explain the use of the words. I hope this will somewhat clarify the use of the term “chemical free”.

    Best Regards,


  6. Pingback: First papers are now out! « Environmental Science: Nano Blog

  7. Dear Mark,

    Thank you for your message and comment about the article.

    We have taken into consideration the points raised and I want to take this opportunity to say that we agree with you that it is wrong to use the phrase “chemical free” as an advertising slogan, as it conveys the idea that there is something wrong with “chemicals”. As it has been pointed out, we have been critical of the phrase and will continue to be.

    As you can read in my response to other comments on our journal blog (, for all the papers we publish the title is decided by the author and their co-workers based on what they feel are the most important/relevant aspects of the research it represents. Reviewers can comment on the title and ask for modifications. In this case they didn’t, but they did the rate the paper very highly for its research content. Once a paper is accepted, Editors and Publishers very rarely ask for authors to alter titles, based on their own opinions, as the paper has been appropriately approved by relevant peer review process.

    I acknowledge that the title is controversial. We’re changing our internal automated alerts to flag up articles containing these kinds of phrases, so we can hopefully avoid these issues in the future.

    Thank you for your comments and for your kind words about our new journal and its future.

    Dr Harpal Minhas, Managing Editor.

  8. Per-Ola Norrby says:

    The material making up the nano-particle is chemicals. The water from the atmosphere is a chemical. The response also implies that the author thinks chemicals are bad. I’m all for sustainability and limiting harmful substances, but implying that “chemicals” always are harmful hurts chemistry as a whole.

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