By Veronica Severini, Health Care Engineering Systems Center
Last month, The Grainger College of Engineering's Health Care Engineering Systems Center (HCESC) introduced the Collaboration Spotlight to highlight interdisciplinary research happening on campus, fostered by the Jump ARCHES endowment at HCESC. The Jump ARCHES endowment was instrumental in providing research dollars to scientists at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to provide support during the mass vaccination and mitigation phase.
Two Requests for Proposals were announced over the past year: one immediately after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March 2020, and one that focused on impending post-pandemic challenges in early Spring 2021. A total of 24 grants sharing $1.2 million dollars of funding were awarded between these two calls. Investigators belonged to nearly all colleges on campus as well as OSF HealthCare, University of Illinois Chicago, University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria, Jump Trading Simulation and Education Center, and privately-owned companies.
This month, HCESC is highlighting the project “Testing the Filtration Efficiency of N95 Respirators for Health Care Employees and Protecting Public Health in Pandemic Flu Emergencies,” led by Vishal Verma, professor in the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at U of I and Dr. Matthew Bramlet of OSF HealthCare and the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria. This project proposed to solve the problem of quality assurance testing for Do-It-Yourself or rapidly made personal protective equipment (PPE). The two-tiered approach included a robust testing facility that evaluates N95 respirators for their filtration ability and to conduct a fit test on the actual human subject to test the seal and particle removal efficiency.
HCESC: How did the idea for your Jump ARCHES COVID-19 project come about?
Verma: Our idea emerged exactly from the need at the beginning of this pandemic on the shortages of PPE in our local community, and the lack of testing facilities for the PPE built by some local manufacturers.
HCESC: What is the effect the Jump ARCHES and ARCHES funding has had on your research direction?
Verma: Jump Arches gave a new direction to our research efforts. We are further exploring the role of aerosols in the transmission of respiratory infectious diseases in general. This would have been impossible without the pilot grant we obtained from Jump Arches.
HCESC: How do you see your project and Jump ARCHES affecting our society post-COVID?
Verma: The data generated by our project helped to remove a lot of myths about the masks. As we know these masks are going to remain an essential component of the preventive measures, we see more awareness in the general public about using these simple devices to prevent the spread of any airborne illnesses in the post-COVID era.
HCESC: Have you worked with students on your project during this time? What has that experience been like?
Verma: Yes, I worked with two students and seeing the sharpness of the learning curve through this project made me feel extremely proud. It was because they could clearly see the relevance of their research immediately for the benefit of our society.
HCESC: What are your future plans with this research?
Verma: We are currently in the process of writing multiple proposals to NIH and NSF focusing on the interesting problems of aerosol transmission in respiratory infections.
Learn more about Verma’s lab and research here.
Originally posted at https://healtheng.illinois.edu/2021/06/01/collaboration-spotlight-june-2021/