July 01, 2020

Professor receives NSF RAPID grant to fight COVID-19

Professor Ponisseril Somasundaran, Lavon Duddleson Krumb Professor of Mineral Engineering in the department of Earth and Environmental Engineering, has received an NSF RAPID grant.

The National Science Foundation is now offering Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grants for non-medical, non-clinical-care research that can be used immediately to explore how to model and understand the spread of COVID-19, to inform and educate about the science of virus transmission and prevention, and to encourage the development of processes and actions to address this global challenge. Several of our researchers have received RAPID grants for COVID-19-related research, including:

Prof Ponisseril Somasundaran: Decontaminating and disinfecting with foam formulations

Decontamination and disinfection has become a part and parcel of our day-to-day activities during our current COVID-19 pandemic, both at home and especially in commercial, industrial, and healthcare centers. A common approach to containing the spread of COVID-19 is to spray decontaminating disinfectants onto the floors in hospitals, apartments, parks, airports, footpaths, and other surfaces. A variety of disinfectants used currently include bleach, hydrogen peroxide, phenols, and iodophors.

Spraying decontaminating bleach solution onto surfaces multiple times a day results in extensive seepage of bleach into the ground. In addition, prolonged exposure to disinfectant fumes can be harmful to the lungs and irritating for the respiratory tracts of people, from first responders to healthcare workers and volunteers.

Ponisseril Somasundaran, Lavon Duddleson Krumb Professor of Mineral Engineering in the department of earth and environmental engineering, has received a six-month $100,000 NSF RAPID grant to develop a set of decontamination foam formulations that are significantly more effective for application across a variety of surfaces while providing uniform deposition of the decontaminant, thus reducing the amount and frequency of applications. Somasundaran’s group, led by Associate Research Scientist Partha Patra, aims to add a special class of molecules—surfactin—to the foam formulation, which functions both as soap molecules promoting the formation of foam and as a disinfectant that enables the reduction of the bleach content. By manipulating the surfactant-to-water ratio and surfactant type and content, the team will tune the foam texture to enable complete coverage of the disinfectant on surfaces.

“The innovative novel antiviral foam formulations we develop, which will include silicones, will spread across and penetrate cracks and crevices more effectively than current practices, and they will stick onto a surface for a period long enough to decontaminate,” says Somasundaran. “In fact, the silicone formulation will even disinfect jewelry on the hands of users, including underneath rings, where the COVID virus can hide and flourish. Our formulations will be more efficient for disinfection operations, while also minimizing the incumbent environmental health exposure risks to first responders and health care workers.”

Find out more about the pioneering work that Prof Somasundaran is doing here:



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