When it comes to UVC technology, it may seem impossible that it a) actually exists and b) works. UVC is all around us, even if we can’t see it, and like so many things in the universe, once we began to understand its immense power and potential, we set to work studying it and applying it to making our lives happier and healthier.
Though it may seem like space-age technology. The use of UV light for the purposes of sanitation is actually a very old one. It was initially discovered by Niels Ryberg Nilsen, a Danish physician who sought to examine the power of UV light to cure his own maladies. It was his discoveries on UV wavelengths and the human body that led to his being awarded the 1903 Nobel Prize for Physiotherapy.
Since its initial discovery way back in 1878, it had been used in countless landmark applications related to human health, including:
- The first UV sanitation of a public water supply in Marseille, France in 1908.
- The first hospital-grade germicidal UV lamps created by Westinghouse in 1932.
- The first application in air-sterilization by GE in the 1950s, a large contributor to the eradication of the scourge of tuberculosis.
Its use against disease has even led to incredible discoveries about the very nature of disease itself, because it wasn’t until the 1930’s that the true germicidal potential of UVC light first came to…well…light.
During this decade William F. Wells, a Harvard engineer, made huge strides in the use of UVC light as a potent and efficient germicidal weapon. In fact, through his studies using UVC light, it was Wells that first realized airborne bacteria and viruses were most likely to make us sick: the previous belief being ingestion or physical contact was required. UVC light didn’t just eliminate 99.9% of germs and bacteria on surfaces, it eradicated those above and around them as well.
Modern UVC Uses
Beyond these landmark applications, the use of UV light for human health and safety has found its way into nearly every aspect of our lives, whether we realize it or not. UVC light produced artificially using bulbs has found its way into hospitals, industrial farms, and municipal water supplies. Even though you may not realize, it’s highly likely that you’ve enjoyed the health and safety benefits of UVC sterilization without even knowing it
You also might be surprised to learn that since its introduction in Marseille in 1908, its most common usage worldwide is to sterilize drinking water, since it’s more effective than even chlorine at turning what comes out of our taps from potentially lethal poison into harmless hydration. In fact, a few years ago, New York City opened the world’s largest UV water sterilization plant. So not only have you probably touched something that was UV sterilized, you may have even consumed it.
UVC TEchnology Takes A Backseat To The Almighty Pill
But through the 1980s and 1990s, rapid societal shifts towards the application of antibiotics meant that the proliferation of UVC light slowed down. Test after test proved out the belief that even despite evidence to the contrary, individuals simply felt better knowing that they had taken a pill. The understanding that something as ubiquitous and seemingly mundane as light could drastically reduce our exposure to sickness and disease was simply too big a mental hurdle for most to cross. This kept UVC technology from finding its way more directly into our lives. Its use continued to spread in large industrial and institutional uses: the hospitals and school, etc., but its development for the home took a backseat to the powerful hold our medicine cabinets held over us.
Knowing what we know now, this was a crucial mistake since many diseases rapidly evolved to become resistant to antibiotics, giving rise to the so-called ‘superbug’. Had we not left this technology to the wayside, we might already be living in a world where our homes, businesses, and gathering places are safely and securely under the germicidal power of UVC light.
Why Is UVC Technology Making Its Way Into The Home Now?
So scientists have known for over a century that broad-spectrum UVC light, which has a wavelength of between 200 to 400 nanometers (nm), is highly effective at killing bacteria and viruses by destroying the bonds that hold their DNA together. It seems like the kind of thing that should be in every home, improving our everyday lives. And yet up until now, it hasn’t been.
Like the answer with most potentially life-changing technologies, it all boils down to cost, available technology, and practicality. Much like the earliest computers, most of the UV disinfection units employed by hospitals and laboratories were large, complicated to use, and prohibitively expensive. Only the biggest companies and municipalities could afford the expense of acquiring, deploying, and maintaining a UV sterilization system.
Two things have changed to drastically increase our ability as individuals to harness the power of UVC technology: compact powerful batteries, and LED bulbs.
When it comes to technology, we often have a short memory. We look at the increasingly advanced devices in our hands and forget just how recently things were different. Almost every technology we use today has been rendered more compact, capable, and powerful thanks to advances in battery technology.
In the last 12 years alone, the energy capacity of lithium-ion batteries (the ones used in most of our handheld technologies in the home) has more than tripled, while the cost has decreased fivefold. This trend is what makes our lives as we know them possible, and it’s what makes UVC technology an incredibly cost-effective and powerful tool in the home for the first time in its over 100 years of existence.
Much like batteries, which form the bedrock of most UVC technology, the lights themselves had to play catch-up before they were convenient for personal use. Before the advent of compact, lightweight, and energy-efficient bulbs, the process of disseminating germicidal UVC light used mercury-vapor lamps. Slow to ‘warm-up’, prone to breaking, and full of nasty mercury, it just wasn’t smart, safe or practical to be able to introduce these devices into the home. That’s something that’s really been made possible by the LED bulb.
LED bulbs are everywhere even if you don’t realize it, and they are what have made UV-C cleaning devices for home-use possible. Incredibly small – it’s almost certainly the light on the back of your cellphone – incredibly light, and ultra-energy-efficient, they made UV sanitizers small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. To give a comparison, an 8.5 watt LED bulb delivers the same amount of light (lumens) as a 60-watt traditional lamp bulb and has a lifespan 25 times greater!
Another benefit is that unlike traditional bulbs, they don’t wear down or degrade with constant turning on-and-off: they work at 100% efficiency and power until the day they just stop. This means that when used in a sanitation situation, it’s never a question of whether or not you’re getting the most out of your device.
The Timing For Home-Use UVC Technology Couldn’t Be Better
Ultimately, the timing couldn’t be better when it comes to having such a cost-effective, portable, and powerful tool in the fight for our health. Though we might take something like UVC technology and hail it as a wonder of modern technology, the foundations upon which they’re built is a technology that has been tested and proven time and time again for over a century. It’s only through the perfect storm of high-powered, low-cost battery technology and ultra-energy-efficient LED bulbs that UVC devices become ready for what will perhaps be their greatest use of all: giving us the confidence to know our health is protected wherever we may be. In our homes, at work, and anywhere in between.