Two Clemson University students have begun work on a device that could use a type of ultraviolet radiation to help protect grocery store workers and shoppers from the novel coronavirus.
Carleigh Coffin and Ashlyn Soule, both freshmen, are creating the device’s first prototype. The device, which would resemble an airport’s security clearance X-ray machine, would be attached to conveyor belts on store checkout lanes. The groceries would run through the machine and be exposed to a UVC light before being handled by the cashier. UVC is ultraviolet radiation with shorter wavelengths than the two other types, UVA and UVB.
The UVC is capable of deactivating the genetic material found in viruses and other microbes, according to Coffin and Soule. Since evidence shows that it can destroy types of coronavirus, it probably can do the same to the virus that causes COVID-19, according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The organization reports that UVC specifically can be used as a disinfectant and that it is already often used on lab equipment, buses and airplanes.
Besides studying bioengineering, Coffin, from Irmo, is a cashier at a grocery store chain. Concern from shoppers about handling their items inspired the idea.
“I wanted to come up with a way to lessen that anxiety and make sure their products are as safe as possible,” she explains.
When the conveyor belt moves the groceries forward, the device would close around the items, protecting the workers and customers from the UVC — which could be harmful to some human tissue but is fine for grocery items.
The inside of the device would be lined with aluminum, which would reflect the light and contain it within the box.
Soule, a biochemistry major from Summerville, and Coffin believe that 10 seconds will be the optimal time of exposure for the items to be safe for the cashier to handle.
The project is part of Clemson’s Creative Inquiry program, which allows undergraduate students an opportunity to conduct research.
Coffin says the device will stand 2 feet tall. She and Soule believe that the parts for the device will cost about $100, according to a release. The UVC lamp itself is about $50.
The students plan to have the prototype built as soon as the last few parts arrive in a week or so. The device will also be able to deactivate other viruses like those that cause the flu or colds.
After the prototype is made and some testing is completed, Coffin and Soule want to eventually test the device out at stores under controlled circumstances using samples of viruses similar to the novel coronavirus.
Coffin and Soule’s device is just one that may come out of a new project that bioengineering professor Delphine Dean has organized at the university. The Clemson COVID Challenge will allow teams of undergraduates to address issues caused by the current pandemic and future ones.