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For the Nanobubble Skeptics

By Bill Nye | Published: May 8, 2010 – 10:03 am

O, there has been a spate, a flood (pun intended), of messages and web postings asserting that tiny bubbles cannot have any measureable, or even noticeable, effect on the world – especially the enormous world of tiny germs.

This has come up on account of my involvement with Activeion, a company that sells a remarkable set of products: systems combining electronic and hydraulic devices to produce very, very small bubbles in water. Now when we say small, we are talking  especially small, on the order of 50 nanometers in diameter. That’s 50 billionths of a meter, which is somewhat less than a ten-thousandth of the thickness of a human hair, or a tenth of the wavelength of green light, for example.

I too was quite skeptical of the existence of what we now call nanobubbles. After all, one cannot easily photograph them with visible light. They are smaller than the lower limit of optical wavelengths.

Nevertheless, compelling calculations show that one in about 250 water molecules can be replaced with an oxygen molecule carrying an electric charge, and a nanobubble will persist for a substantial fraction of a minute.

That aside, I ran my own tests of the efficacy of what has come to be called “activated” water– nanobubble-bearing water. From my direct experiments, I conclude that electrically charged nano-bubbles disrupt the cell walls of bacteria. Rigorous lab test show that they also denature viruses. As you look into this, you may come across the expressions, “bactericidal” and “virucidal.”

In science educator fashion, I baked very clean cotton swabs in an oven at 75 Celsius (170 Fahrenheit) for about an hour. I prepared a bacterial growth medium using boiled bouillon and gelatin cooled in sterile-baked aluminum dishes. I swabbed a number of household surfaces before and after I sprayed them with nanobubble-bearing water. I prepared otherwise untainted control versions of the medium in dishes. I left the dishes covered for three days at room temperature. The treated surfaces produced substantially fewer bacterial colonies on my growth media. My results are consistent with the rigorous results from ATS Laboratories in Minnesota. This lab routinely checks the efficacy of antimicrobial products, the kinds of things used in restaurants, cafeterias, and the like.

While nanobubbles cannot be photographed in conventional fashion, consider these recent micrographs of bacteria. Visit Activeion.com. Use your judgment. See if we’re on to something.

Keep in mind also that the Tennant Company, which supplies floor and surface cleaning equipment to many institutions around the world, has incorporated nanobubble-generating cells in many of their floor washing systems for a few years. Skeptics like you and me have to consider that Tennant’s customers buy these products for some reason.

What I find so appealing about these products is that they are a way to accomplish more with less. As you may know, I strongly believe that this way of thinking is the key to our future. We have almost seven billion people living on what’s proving to be a pretty small planet. If we can find ways to do more with the less, it will help many of us live into the next century.

31 Responses to “For the Nanobubble Skeptics”

  1. karl says:

    I’m curious about the source of the water. Was it water straight from the tap? Was it distilled water? I’m also wondering why you didn’t prepare a second control that you sprayed with water that didn’t come from the device in question.

  2. karl says:

    I\’m curious about the source of the water. Was it water straight from the tap? Was it distilled water? I\’m also wondering why you didn\’t prepare a second control that you sprayed with water that didn\’t come from the device in question.

  3. Reality says:

    I don’t know if your personal tests were properly performed and reproducible with comparisons with plain water. Is there evidence those cells photographed after the spray were the result of the spray? It sure sounds like Woo Woo to me and at the very least, it will force people to do more with a whole lot less money left in their wallet if they do decide to buy this battery powered water spray bottle.

    Sorry but that is how I see it. Although, I did get some entertainment value watching that 9 minute video.

  4. Reality says:

    So, if there was a charged oxygen molecule (O2), then where are the 2 molecules of hydrogen (H2). For a 1 in 250 concentration of molecules, I doubt that battery will last very long to separate that many water molecules in that bottle!

    I remain very very skeptical, sorry.

  5. Max says:

    Bill,

    So far, you’ve only demonstrated that “activated” water is better than nothing. Next, demonstrate that it’s better than chlorinated tap water, and that it’s better than the chemicals it’s advertised to replace.
    Customers buy these products because they want “to do more with less,” same reason customers buy into water scams like homeopathy, Kangen water, and water-fueled cars, as well as other too-good-to-be-true scams like perpetual motion machines, dowsing rods, and get-rich-quick schemes.
    Here’s a whole website on water scams: http://www.chem1.com/CQ
    I hope Activeion’s ionizer works as advertised, but Bill, if anyone gets sick or dies because the ionizer was substituted for a proven disinfectant, you’ll have blood on your hands. Keep that in mind when you receive your paycheck.

  6. Reality says:

    Max, I agree. I sure want to know that my safety is not endangered by someone else believing that product works as they claim. I’ll take the proven chemicals and disinfectants over this woo woo water with “nano” bubbles that you can’t see. Now, if you can’t see the bubbles, how do you know the devices is still working if it ever worked? Do you have to taste the water first?. I say this product is VERY DANGEROUS to our safety in many ways. Thanks Bill, the next thing you will be promoting is the ionic shower where you put this device on your shower head and you won’t need shampoo or soap! Then get rid of toilet paper too and just spray after deposit!

  7. Kell says:

    Interesting.

    I’m not about to invest in it personally, but it looks to me like an idea more than worth looking into, any way to cut the use of harmful chemicals getting dumped down drains (and all over the food at some places… mmm, bleach burger!) is a step in the right direction. To the skeptics… I can see your points, but I must add, nobody in their right minds is going to jump on this as their sole cleaning product until it is well proven and tested, it is an idea and a possibility, buckets of soupy water won’t be out of work any time soon.

  8. macie says:

    im in 5th grade and i am doing a sciuence fair progect aboutdo canines or huimans have more bacteria in their mouths im almost done ill keep you updated with my score

  9. Reality says:

    Kell, they are marketing a “commercial” and “industrial” version which has the danger of being used in hospitals and the food industry. There is the harm in this woo!

  10. Jeffer says:

    Could this be a possible answer to the chemical-resistant bacteria that are showing up world-wide? Hmmmmmm……..

  11. Max says:

    Even if Activeion’s ionizer does disinfect with plain water, how does it compare to a cheap steam cleaner?

  12. Lou says:

    Wow, that is interesting! I’m guessing your detractors (aka Reality & Max) work for a chemical company, and don’t like this sort of result.

  13. Reality says:

    Nope, don’t work for a chemical company. I am a Skeptic and combat the woo forces in the world. This Activeion is woo and a big ripoff. Sorry bill, you got had!

  14. Max says:

    Guess again, Lou. I’ve seen hospital-acquired infections, and don’t like scams that might cause an increase in infections.

  15. Reality says:

    From another skeptic site, someone named James said this:

    “Nye got $150,000 plus stock options for the endorsement.”

    Now, I don’t know if this is true or not but it is a lot of money to endorse something so it is suspect.

  16. You can treat a surface or article as much as you wish, as water vapour leaves no residue and shouldn’t harm it.

  17. personne says:

    Bill,
    I was provided by Amazon with one of these units. I have written a review of the product on their website. I wasn’t particularly concerned with the product claims to kill germs, preferring to wait for qualified tests from an unaffiliated lab. The test results provided by Activion were laughable. I was reminded of Groucho’s maxim “who you gonna believe? Me or your lying eyes”.

    My interest was in simply seeing if the thing would do basic cleaning. I tested it against plain old water on a number of surfaces. I really wanted it to work, but the simple truth is that it doesn’t work any better than water alone. Did you try that?

    Perhaps there’s something to “nano-bubbles”. Perhaps there’s something to virgin’s tears and eye of newt. I’d prefer to believe that your wish for green overcame the skepticism that you’ve admirably shown in other areas. But as far as I’m concerned, your credibility is damaged. You’ve got work to do.

  18. AaronB says:

    Bill,

    I dont know if you read coments since you dont seem to reply (your a busy guy!) But I hope this technology works as you say it does. If only as a harmless cleaning agent, it would be worthwhile to get some of the poison from going down our drains.
    I would describe myself as not wanting to be labeled a “skeptic”, or a “easy believer” but rather a pragmatic realist, I dream, but question my own dreams.
    I do wish there was more examples, Beyond the molacule images which while interesting, arent “proof” to me. More like eye witness accounts, which as we know, are the least valid evidence there is. I mean even Windex adverts have a close up showing a “streak free” shine. I don’t recall seeing that anywhere.
    Some people say it creates overpriced bleach, from what I see, I disagree, because it seems at worst, it would create TEMPORARY bleach, which is a different thing altogether, much better for the enviroment.
    I’ve read Amazon reviews, and most of them arent convincing either way.

    If there was any way there was a more evidence, I would be much happier. However your endorcment goes a loooooong way with me so I lean towards believing because you do.

    And to the people who comment about the amount you were paid… A) Be as skeptical of some random web post about how much it is as you are of everything else. and B) For freaken Bill Nye’s seal of approval? That’s worth a lot more than the numbers I’ve seen tossed about by faceless names online.

    Anyway just wanted to say I’m not 100% with ya Bill, but I am keeping an open mind. And hope for more evidence, beyond the screams of the full time skeptical community.

    Aaron

  19. AaronB says:

    I apologize for the double post, but I had to comment that every positive review on Amazon is attacked in comments (so far mostly by people who seem to have never touched the product)

    While some of the people claim things that could be valid, the majority just cement the repliers standing as a “professional skeptic”

    Once again, no matter what, Bill Nye is a class act all the way. And if push comes to shove, I’d take his word over some random post or website on the internet.
    (sorry for typos before, 4 year old running about made me forget spellcheck!)

  20. Reality says:

    AaronB,

    Was there another article or something to get these posts started again? I find the so called evidence provided by Bill as laughable. I just don’t think Bill thought this through enough and got scammed!. I saw an infomercial for this product and the whole audience got one of these devices. It was a joke.

    By Bill’s absence from replying to us here raises some eyebrows! Even the old king of the Skeptics was surprised at Bill.

  21. Charlie Yang says:

    Just a couple of comments about Bill’s support of what is almost certainly a well-funded scam.

    First, if the description of blown-up E. coli is valid it should be published in the standard way in a refereed journal. Otherwise there is no way to evaluate the work. Valid science is not the product of marketing departments. As Bill well knows.

    Second, whether the Activeion actually works or not – and as yet there is no third party testing which has not been paid for by the manufacturer – there is little doubt that the Activeion company has put out misleading and fraudulent hype, including hiring an advertisting agency to post fake reviews on Amazon. This was proven by an Amazon reviewer, link below. Legitimate companies don’t do thing like this. Shame on you, Bill.

    http://www.amazon.com/review/R15Z8EHDR451N5/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

    See Comment 3.

  22. Tim says:

    ATS Labs is a complete joke. You take them a product and they design a test that helps show it works. Good grief.

  23. Jennifer says:

    This is an awesome and effective GREEN cleaning tool. I was given one and IT WORKS. I keep imagining the possibilities – especially where hygiene and water are scarce or in hospitals, schools etc.. Maybe a “personal size for the car, purse or diaper bag? I can clean the entire over-sized shower and tub with one quart of water and the amazing thing is that it STAYS CLEANER longer – like almost twice as long. NO chems down the drain and very little water used. You can clean the entire bathroom, with exception to below the water line in the toilette bowl. It works wonders on glass – actually does the scrubbing for you. Another application is cleaning granite – nothing can come close to making your granite – not only clean – but attractively shiny. After preparing raw meat – I sanitize the hard surface with a spray-down. I’m not a physical scientist – just a consumer. In a culture with about a 100 names for soap – there is no wonder why this is not sweeping the janitorial and cleaning worlds…… duh, CORPORATIONS!

  24. cgauthier says:

    Lou, that is hilarious. Do you always meet corporate misinformation agents in blog comment sections?

    Bill, this does seem a tad on the scammy side.

  25. Monado, FCD says:

    Mr. Nye, I’d want to know more before putting my word behind a product like this. Those are scanning electron microscope pictures, so they could not be showing the same bacteria before and after treatment. Aren’t they freeze-dried and covered with a thin layer of metal ions to make them show up in the SEM? Even if not, how would you keep track of them as you moved the slide around, sprayed it with a stream of water that would move them around, and put it back? I see an intact bacterium and a disrupted one (or a piece of fluff), but there’s no way to know what caused the disruption. The technician simply selected a damaged organism for the second shot.

    What activates the water? And if it has an activated bubble in it which lasts for a fraction of a second, how do you apply your bubbles to an entire object before a fraction of a second has passed? If you have to activate right at the spray head and pass the nozzle over the entire surface of the object to be cleaned in tiny passes that don’t miss any surface, I don’t think it would be practical because it would require too much manual labor to make sure that every square cm was treated.

    Seriously, if the power requirements aren’t too great and the equipment is simple enough so that the water can be activated right before it’s applied, it might be useful in a small-volume chamber for cleaning complex surfaces. But steam would last longer and thus be more reliable.

    I think you’re being scammed.

  26. Ashley Zinyk says:

    Comparing “ionized” water to nothing at all doesn’t seem like a very good control. Shouldn’t you compare a surface cleaned with “ionized” water with a surface cleaned with tap water from an ordinary, 99-cent spray bottle?

  27. may says:

    tried it.

  28. I found this science background on nanobubbles helpful:

    http://www.lsbu.ac.uk/water/nanobubble.html

  29. Will says:

    Sorry but I do beleive you have essentially created bleach by activating water. exert from wikipedia “Electrolysed water (“Electrolyzed Water”) (EOW or EO, also known as electrolyzed oxidizing water, electro-activated water or electro-chemically activated water solution) is produced by the electrolysis of ordinary tap water containing dissolved sodium chloride.[1] Typically, tap water has sufficient dissolved salts for the electrolysis of water. The electrolysis of such salt solutions produces a solution of sodium hypochlorite, which is the most common ingredient in store-bought household bleach. The resulting water is a known surfactant (soap) and sanitizer.”

  30. pat jensen says:

    I came across some new TSP eco with “nano bubbles” at the paint store the other day. Apparently it cleans as good or better than regular TSP which is being phased out, but I have to wonder about the safety of this and other janatorial products. What happens if I get some on my skin? Will the “nano bubbles” carry any chemicals with it through the skin and directly into the blood?? (moreso than ‘ordinary’ chemicals that is)?

  31. S M T says:

    So what happens to the good bacteria?

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