Attention bathtub readers, germophobes and packrats: High-tech paper created by Italians is completely waterproof, magnetic and antimicrobial. Not content with a mere waterproof coating for paper, this version has nanotech surrounding each fiber.

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The nanotech paper development was led by Roberto Cingolani, the scientific director of the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italian Institute of Technology) in Genoa. Cingolani and his fellow scientists wanted to give normal paper super powers. So they came up with a process that creates a soft 3-D shell around each fiber in the material, published this month in the Journal of Materials Chemistry (abstract).

First, the scientists took fiber molecules called monomers and mixed them with a nanoparticle solution, explained Forbes contributor Jennifer Hicks. Then that polymer mixture can be applied to paper or even fabric. It works by wrapping around all the fibers in paper. I imagine it's a bit like the difference between wearing plastic waterproof gloves versus hand-knit wool ones to do the dishes.

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"The properties of the paper are not changed in any way and the paper is still printable," Cingolani told Hicks. The Italian scientists say that paper made from their efficient process will feel like normal paper and can be recycled, too.

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Depending on the desired properties, different types of nanoparticles can be added. For example, manganese ferrite particles make the paper magnetic, silver nanoparticles make it antibacterial, and fluorescent particles make it glow.

Although the scientists are still perfecting the paper, they imagine a number of uses such as waterproofing important historical documents and adding increased security to currency. Maybe magazines will start printing "waiting room editions" with antibacterial properties. For now, though, I'll just stick to my non-magical, non-electronic books.

Photo: Waterproof paper from an Italian nanotechnology team. Credit: Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia