ATLANTA - We hear a lot about the worldwide race for a COVID-19 vaccine. Yet, across the US, researchers are quietly working on innovative ways to tackle everyday challenges posed by the novel coronavirus.
In Pasadena, California, where the engineers design and send robots into outer space at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, engineer Tom Cwik and Design and Communications Manager Faith Oftadeh have tackled a more down-to-earth problem: how to get people to stop touching their faces.
After reading the CDC's warnings back in March that touching our faces can allow the virus to transfer from contaminated surfaces into our mouth, eyes, and noses, the JPL team started brainstorming.
"Tom, I remember him vividly sitting here, and saying, "Oh, it would be great if we had something reminding us," Oftadeh says.
That's how the PULSE pendant was born. The creators say with a little skill and little money you can build it yourself.
"It gets really angry when you're close to your face," Oftadeh, who designed the clear pendant, tapping into her background as a jewelry designer.
Made with a 3D-printer, the PULSE is a sensor you wear it around your neck that vibrates when your hands get too close to your face.
"So, when your hand comes back by the sensor, it senses your movement, and then it literally buzzes the pendant," Cwik explains. "And, you go, 'Oh, yeah! My hand is coming up to my face again!'"
In Atlanta, at Georgia Tech, researchers are tackling another reason people are constantly touching their faces these days: their masks don't fit properly.
So, Tech professor Sundaresan Jayaraman and principal research scientist Sungmee Park have put their heads together to create a better fitting, more effective face mask.
"This is intended for people who need to wear a mask for a long period of time," Jayaraman says . "One one of the key challenges for those of us who are working is that we keep on touching it, because it keeps on falling off,. It doesn't fit properly."
Their mask uses stretchable, breathable fabrics like lyocell and spandex and includes a pocket for a disposable filter.
The duo plan to share their mask pattern with the public, allowing people to create their own versions of the mask with inexpensive store-bought materials.
In Indiana, at Purdue University, biomedical engineering researchers are tackling another problem: the coronavirus can linger in the air, especially indoors in poorly ventilated spaces.
Professor Young Kim and his team have developed a diffuser-like device that uses a combination of safe light and FDA-approved food dyes to neutralize tiny viral particles floating in the air.
"So, this can be used for any enclosed or confined space with poor ventilation, for example, classrooms, places of worship, performance arenas or in any public transportation," Dr. Kim explains.
He calls the device a Photodynamic Airborne Cleaner or PAC, and you can read more about it here.
Finally, in Greensboro, North Carolina, at North Carolina, A&T State University, Dr. Balu Gokaraju and grad student Yaa Acquaah are focused on helping North Carolina's public school students return to class safely.
Professor Gokaraju's team has created a low-cost, remote-controlled fever detection system that measures a child's body temperature by zeroing in on one of the child's tear ducts, which Acquaah says is the most effective way to gauge someone's core body temperature.
The device takes about 2 seconds to scan for fever, which she says is faster than most forehead temperature scanners used in many medical settings.
It is also hands-free, allowing school administrators to quickly scan children arriving at school, Gokaraju says.
"Where the students can come and put their forehead close to thermometer," he says. "By standing in a square, they get their temperature reading, and an alarm with come out to give a sound in they have a fever."