The t-shirt with a small secret

SMART materials and designer drugs take advantage of nanotechnology, the science of the super small, and now school students can learn the tricks of the trade.

Young scientists at UniSA are inviting Year 11 students and their teachers to take a free tour behind the scenes during National Science Week on Thursday, August 16.

National Science Week is officially August 11 to 19, but South Australia has a head start with a huge program of events throughout the month.

During the three-hour interactive event called “Super Drugs and Mini Guts”, students will use virtual reality to enter a single cell and have a look around.

They will also get a closer look at a microchip embedded with hollow tubes lined with human intestinal cells, the “mini gut” or “intestine-on-a-chip”.

UniSA researchers Tahlia Meola and Marnie Winter test the nanotechnology t-shirt that repels water. Picture: Tricia Watkinson

UniSA researchers Tahlia Meola and Marnie Winter test the nanotechnology t-shirt that repels water. Picture: Tricia WatkinsonSource:News Limited

PhD student Tahlia Meola says the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Convergent Bio-Nano Science and Technology won a National Science Week grant to offer the event free of charge.

“The event is a great opportunity for students to come and talk to researchers, which is something they may not always be able to do,” she said.

“They can ask questions about what it’s like to work in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) area and get a real feel for it.”

Everyone at the Centre works at the nanoscale, which is incredibly small, as Ms Meola explains: “a nanometre is really, really tiny, it’s one billionth of a metre, so we can’t visualise it with the eye”.

Students can also play around with the nano-T-shirt, which has a special coating that makes it repel water.

“So if you throw a liquid at the T-shirt it will fall off in beads … just like water falling off a duck’s back,” Ms Meola said.

“The way it relates to our work is we use different types of coatings for drugs and particles when we deliver them to the body, so we can target specific sites.”

Ms Meola is developing a better way to deliver anti-psychotic drugs, which currently need to be taken with fatty food. She says smarter medicines would combine the drug with oil in tablet form.

Super Drugs and Mini Guts will take place from 10am to 1pm on Thursday, August 16 in the new UniSA Cancer Research Institute on North Terrace, near SAHMRI and the new RAH.

The team hopes to attract 42 Year 11 students this year and places are still available. Visit or email for more information.


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