Now that we know the virus that causes COVID-19 can be transmitted via aerosol (tiny particles in the air that can hang around for a long time), researchers and engineers globally have turned their attention to helping promote air circulation where risk exposure is high, and also to kill any active viral particles that might be in the air. One such effort is the Nanowave Air, a device created by Pittsburgh-based Dynamics, Inc. (via NEXT Pittsburgh) which uses UV-C light in a safe and contained way to inactivate the virus in enclosed spaces.
The Nanowave Air operates on basically the same principal as any air purifier you might have in your home, using a fan to take in air and then passing it through a filter before putting it back out into the room. The difference is that the filter in this case is actually exposure to ultraviolet light – and specifically UV-C light, the type that has been proven to be effective in killing the SARS-CoV-2 virus that leads to COVID-19.
UV-C light differs from the more common UV-A light that we're all generally exposed to in significant quantities from sunlight, and direct exposure to UV-C is harmful to humans. It has been used in indoor viral surface sterilization in the past, but typically the rooms where it's used can't be occupied at the time, and obviously it's not effective once it's no longer in use and people are allowed back in.
The Nanowave Air was created by the Carnegie Mellon spinout Dynamics when its CEO realized that the technology they were working on around UV-C light sources already for large-scale industrial applications could be adapted to address the COVID-19 crisis. That led to the portable design of the Air, which is roughly the size of a hobbyist telescope, and which works by containing the UV-C light within, and funneling air through it at high speeds using fans in order to be able to neutralize any active virus present while also allowing people to still continue to occupy the spaces where it's in operation.
Nanowave Air is now shipping, with a $3,450 retail price. It's intended for use in spaces like primary care facilities, dental offices, and other shared locations where people have to occupy the same space despite current guidance around social distancing and especially indoor exposure. The company, which has tested its technology at a number of labs across the U.S. including the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Vaccine Research, also announced that it's now being used in some homes with a COVID-19-positive individual, in order to reduce the exposure potential for other members of the household who haven't yet contracted the illness.
This week saw the announcement of positive news for two of the larger efforts to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, but even if those end up providing long-term protection and ramp distribution quickly, the effort to contain COVID-19 globally will still include a lot of necessary preventative steps to avoid contraction among the unvaccinated populace. Managing airborne presence of the virus is sure to be a key ingredient, and solutions like the Nanowave Air could help to spur those efforts.