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A plasma reactor zaps airborne viruses – and could help slow the spread of infectious diseases

Using nonthermal plasma reactors, researchers could one day curb the spread of airborne pathogens.| Short Read

By Herek Clack

It’s the enduring media image of infectious disease outbreaks, including the current coronavirus outbreak from Wuhan, China: people in public spaces with faces half-hidden by surgical masks.

Filters have long been used to remove particles, including viruses and bacteria, from the air we breathe. Particle filters are key components of building and aircraft ventilation systems. Unfortunately, viruses are much smaller than the smallest particles those filters typically capture reliably.

One possibility for curbing the spread of airborne pathogens is a nonthermal plasma reactor. Plasma is the fourth state of matter, a gas composed of electrically charged ions and electrons rather than neutral atoms and molecules. Nonthermal means the plasma isn’t formed at high temperatures. At the University of Michigan, my colleagues and I developed a nonthermal plasma reactor that leaves airborne pathogens unable to infect host organisms, including people. The plasma oxidizes the viruses, which disables their mechanism for entering cells.

After testing in the lab and at livestock facilities, we’ve shown that the reactor reduces the numbers of infectious viruses in an air stream by more than 99%. We’re developing the technology for use in animal agriculture, but it might also be useful where people are concentrated in enclosed spaces, including commercial aircraft.

This article is republished from The Conversation. Read the original article.

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  • Herek Clack

    Herek Clack

    Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

The electrons absorb laser light and set up “momentum combs” (the hills) spanning the energy valleys within the material (the red line). When the electrons have an energy allowed by the quantum mechanical structure of the material—and also touch the edge of the valley—they emit light. This is why some teeth of the combs are bright and some are dark. By measuring the emitted light and precisely locating its source, the research mapped out the energy valleys in a 2D crystal of tungsten diselenide. Credit: Markus Borsch, Quantum Science Theory Lab, University of Michigan.

Mapping quantum structures with light to unlock their capabilities

Rather than installing new “2D” semiconductors in devices to see what they can do, this new method puts them through their paces with lasers and light detectors. | Medium Read