University of South Florida
This project will provide fundamental understanding and technical validation for a portable sterilization technique, the corona discharge, to be safely and effectively used for sterilization and recharge of the used face masks, N95 respirators, and PPEs. The overall purpose of this RAPID project is to urgently advance a safe, sustainable and high-efficiency sterilization technology by conducting collaborative and systematic research on the sterilization mechanism of corona discharge (CD). CD can efficiently and rapidly sterilize various PPEs to help resolve the massive shortage problem upon an outbreaks of public health emergencies, and offers an efficient sterilization solution for shared surfaces, confined space, and possibly open air to prevent COVID-19 spread. This would drastically mitigate the PPE shortage at hospitals, and allow citizens’ access to masks, which will help to flatten the curve of SARS-CoV-2 infection and support economic recovery. The project will bring awareness to public on the potential risk of reusing masks without static charges, which reduces the filtration effect. Through established collaboration with research institution the PIs have access to a local hospital and possibility to obtain field data on the efficiency of their CD prototypes. The PIs are collaborating with CD unit manufacturer to bring timely impact on mitigate COVID-19 pandemic. PI will actively involve underrepresented graduate and undergraduate students in the research. This project will establish sterilization mechanism and efficiency of corona discharge to levels required for safe hospital use of face masks and PPEs. This collaborative RAPID proposal linking the fields of Mechanical Engineering and Biological Sciences will: 1) investigate sterilization and recharging effectiveness on masks by CD, and its effect on the filtration mechanism and efficiency of masks; 2) study how CD kills bacteria and viruses by tracking the interaction of different components in corona and microbe to identify the most effective sterilization method; 3) study how substrate material and surface condition affect CD sterilization mechanism and efficiency, as well as the sterilization effect for contaminated air. The PIs have preliminary results showing sterility assurance level (SAL) of lower than 10-3 vs. E. coli within seconds for general use, and potentially 10-6 with extended treatment time for surgical use. The planned comprehensive sterilization mechanism study will also provide a better understanding of the interaction among photons, electrons, free radicals, ionized particles, etc. in corona discharge with protein, nucleic acids, and other components of viruses, bacteria, and possibly fungi, identify the most effective sterilization method, and prompt the development of more efficient targeted sterilization technologies for pathogens with different membrane or protein compositions. The in-depth study of the sterilization effect and mechanism on different kinds of microorganisms living on various surfaces and in different environments will help researchers discover more technologies that deactivate contagious bacteria and viruses and reduce the transmission of contagious diseases.This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.