[Project jointly offered with Rajan Chakrabarty, WashU]
The SARS-CoV-2 virus transmits via several modes, including aerosols and droplets, which remain suspended in air long enough to be inhaled. When aerosols or droplets containing respiratory fluid and microorganisms are expelled into unsaturated air, or air with relative humidity (RH) under 100%, they partially or fully evaporate to equilibrate with ambient conditions. This process decreases the particle size and consequently increases its airborne lifetime. Evaporation also increases the concentration of free H+ ions in an aerosol, which in turn, reduce the pH, while solutes such as salts and proteins remain intact. Interactions among salts, changing pH, temperature, and RH in a shrinking droplet are dynamic; past research has shown that enveloped viruses, such as SARS CoV-2, that partition on the surface of aerosols may be subject to damage from increasing surface tension, shear stress, and conformational rearrangement driven by this dynamic interplay. The unfolding of peptides and subsequent denaturing of proteins can occur at the droplet’s air-water interface. Using a synergistic combination of modeling and experiments, this project aims at determining how environmental parameters, such as RH and temperature, affect the virus transmission dynamics (e.g. size, residence time, distance traveled) and their subsequent detection after they are expelled from infected individuals in the aerosol phase
The overarching objective of this project is to contribute to the design and development of a real-time, portable device, currently ongoing at Washington University, that detects CoV-2 viral particles in a range of environments and conditions. Findings from this project is anticipated to facilitate benchmarking of the device’s recovery and measurement of virus encapsulated in aerosol phase under different environmental conditions.
Note: The student is expected to work collaboratively as part of a teams of medical professionals, graduate students, and postdocs at Washington University in St. Louis. As such, he/she can expect technical help provided by the team to get jump started on the project.