UBC Okanagan researchers are currently at the forefront of studying airborne disease transmission and developing technologies and equipment to keep people safe indoors.
The Airborne Disease Transmission Research Cluster is an interdisciplinary group of researchers led by associate professors Jonathan Little and Sunny Li. Little heads the health aspects of the group while Li is responsible for engineering.
“This research is a collaboration between myself, a health researcher, but primarily the brains behind the operation are the engineers who study fluid dynamics and how things flow in the air,” said Little.
“Obviously, right now, we’re in a situation where airborne disease transmission is on the top of many people’s minds. The research centre was really to bring together an interdisciplinary team to address this problem.”
But just how are they researching airborne particles and disease transmission when everyone is apart?
The group installed mannequin heads in a classroom to simulate mouth and nose structures, installing nebulizers that imitate breathing. Different kinds of fluids and solutions with DNA-coated microspheres are put in the nebulizers to simulate different kinds of diseases.
An air droplet counter then measures how big the particles are, how many there are in the room, and how they are moving.
Li’s team then visualizes the results to show what the particles are doing — if they’re floating around or sticking to a surface — and how they’re moving in the room.
The goal of the entire research cluster is to keep health care workers and other members of the public safe in a variety of settings.
The team is also hoping to develop technologies and equipment that will help address disease transmission. Little said they are working with industry partners to make their ideas into reality, collaborating with health care providers including Interior Health and Care Dental Centre, industry specialists like Delta-T consultants and CareHealth Meditech.
“We can see that many industries and companies responded to the pandemic and develop products and put them to market quickly,” Li said.
“But do these devices offer the best protection? I don’t think so. So to make those improvements on these products, that’s what we’re doing here and that’s how we’re contributing to our Kelowna community.”