TAMPA, Fla. (May 26, 2020) – The National Science Foundation has awarded an interdisciplinary team of scientists from the University of South Florida a rapid response grant, advancing their efforts to establish a novel technology that can rapidly sterilize and electrostatically recharge N95 respiratory masks to restore their original filtration efficiency.
Ying Zhong, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and Libin Ye, assistant professor of biological sciences, received approximately $167,000 to further develop this sterilization technology. It is designed to fight coronavirus by using corona discharge, low-temperature atmospheric pressure plasma and works by simultaneously deactivating pathogens on a mask and restoring its electrostatic charges.
Wearing masks prevents the transmission of microdroplets, effectively protecting people from infection. Due to the national and worldwide shortage during the coronavirus pandemic, the masks are continuing to be reused. USF researchers caution against this as most sterilization methods, such as steaming or applying disinfectants, can dramatically decrease a mask’s effectiveness, which is essential to protect front line workers.
Zhong and Ye are also developing handheld surface screening devices to sterilize homes, hospitals and other public areas, such as restaurants, schools and public transportation.
“We hope portable corona screening devices can provide a safe solution for effective sterilization, instead of repeatedly utilizing large amounts of disinfectants,” Zhong said. “Developing an efficient, sustainable and affordable solution for everyone to have access to and to protect more people is what we, researchers, feel responsible to do in a pandemic like this.”
The team has proven the technology can kill 10,000 E. coli bacteria in less than a minute with a single-needle model, with the potential, they say, to sterilize even more pathogens in less time if more needles or wires are built into the device. USF is collaborating with a lab at the University of California San Diego to validate the technology’s effectiveness against SARS-CoV-2.
“It is exciting to see corona can kill coronavirus,” Ye said. “The application of this technology will transform the way we disinfect for public health purposes in a more convenient and effective manner.”
The researchers have filed for a provisional patent on the technology and are working toward FDA approval. They’re currently collaborating with a medical device design company to turn their prototypes into products that cost less than $50. Zhong and Ye hope to soon make them available to hospitals and the general public. With low power output and no heat emission, the corona treatment is safe to operate.
This technology is also one of 14 projects to receive initial funding from the University of South Florida COVID-19 Rapid Response Research Grants program. The program is designed to help USF researchers quickly scale up their projects while seeking longer-term federal research support through the recently passed CARES Act and other sources.The USF Office of Research and Innovation is expected to soon announce a second round of projects to receive funding.
About the University of South Florida
The University of South Florida is a high-impact global research university dedicated to student success. Over the past 10 years, no other public university in the country has risen faster in U.S. News and World Report’s national university rankings than USF. Serving more than 50,000 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee, USF is designated as a Preeminent State Research University by the Florida Board of Governors, placing it in the most elite category among the state’s 12 public universities. USF has earned widespread national recognition for its success graduating under-represented minority and limited-income students at rates equal to or higher than white and higher income students. USF is a member of the American Athletic Conference. Learn more at www.usf.edu.