Research News

Germs on smartphone? UB engineer receives grant for light-based disinfection system

hands texting on a smartphone.

Mobile devices are dirty, often containing millions of invisible bacteria and microorganisms.


Published October 25, 2017

headshot of Ed Furlani.
“You don’t see it, but there is bacteria all over your smartphone and tablet. Most of the time, it isn’t a problem. But sometimes it is. ”
Edward Furlani, professor
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Mobile devices are not only smart, they are dirty — often containing millions of invisible bacteria and microorganisms from our faces, ears, hands and elsewhere.

In everyday environments this bacteria is usually innocuous. However, in sensitive environments such as hospitals and food processing facilities, spreading diseases like the flu or norovirus via mobile devices can have serious health consequences.

To prevent this from happening, UB researcher Edward Furlani is working with two Western New York companies — CleanSlate UV (Buffalo) and Grantwood Technologies (Rochester) — to deliver faster, more effective and easier sanitization of mobile devices using ultraviolet light, which damages the DNA of  microorganisms and renders them inactive.

Furlani has received a $75,000 grant from FuzeHub, an Albany-based, not-for-profit organization that assists small- to medium-sized manufacturing companies in New York by matching them with technical and business resources.

“You don’t see it, but there is bacteria all over your smartphone and tablet. Most of the time, it isn’t a problem. But sometimes it is. And in certain environments, it can be a huge health problem,” says Furlani, professor in the departments of Electrical Engineering, and Biological and Chemical Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The printer-sized CleanSlate UV device opens up like a car hood. Users place their device inside it. It then closes and uses ultraviolent light to sanitize the device, killing superbugs like MRSA and C. Difficile. The entire process takes 30 seconds.

The project leverages CleanSlate UV’s disinfection technology, Grantwood Technologies’ optical design expertise and Furlani’s expertise in photonics. The work is expected to generate 10 new advanced manufacturing jobs in Western New York.

CleanSlate UV is part of the START-UP NY economic development program, and was among the group of prize-winning companies at the 2015 43North business plan competition.

FuzeHub is a program of the Jeff Lawrence Manufacturing Innovation Fund. Lawrence, who passed away in 2015, was a top executive at the Center for Economic Growth, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) center in the Albany region, and a champion for New York manufacturing and entrepreneurial communities. 

The Manufacturing Innovation Fund, consisting of $1 million annually for five years, supports a set of activities designed to spur technology development and commercialization across New York. FuzeHub is administering this fund as part of its role as the Empire State Development (ESD)-designated statewide MEP center.

“One of the goals of the fund and the Manufacturing Innovation Grants is to spur economic development in the manufacturing sector, and we’re seeing that even these small investments in manufacturing projects are allowing companies to add jobs, strengthen their teams and contribute to their growth,” says FuzeHub Executive Director Elena Garuc. “These projects are a great example of how New York’s innovation assets are supporting industry and contributing to economic growth in New York.”