Herek Clack:
Preventing Airborne Infectious Disease Transmission: Challenges and Technical Advances

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Increasing recognition of the transmissibility of the SARS-CoV-2 virus between humans as airborne aerosols, and the limited options for respiratory protection against such transmission, have drawn attention to air purification products, with their relative advantages and disadvantages being closely considered. This presentation reviews recent experimental achievements in developing non-thermal plasmas (NTPs) to potentially displace HEPA filtration and ultraviolet irradiation for rapid inactivation of airborne viruses in ventilation air. Studies considering both viral surrogates and actual viral pathogens known to cause animal disease are discussed. Unique challenges faced in conducting airborne virus inactivation studies are described along with solutions developed. Finally, performance comparisons between NTP air sterilization and the established technologies of UV irradiation and particle filtration are presented, demonstrating the substantial promise presented by NTP-based approaches.

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Professor Herek Clack is an associate professor of civil & environmental engineering at the University of Michigan. At U-M, his group focuses on chemical and biological aerosols and their interactions with electric fields and electrical discharges. He has served on numerous National Research Council committees addressing environmental issues ranging from the implications of changes to the regulations governing power plant emissions to the safe and ethical thermal destruction of both conventional munitions and chemical warfare agents by the U.S. military. He is the recipient of the XVI Distinguished Young Alumni/ae award (MIT, 2000), the NSF CAREER Award (NSF, 2004), the Harry J. White Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Science and Application of Electrostatic Precipitation (Int’l Soc. for Electrostatic Precipitation, 2013), and the Kenneth M. Reese Outstanding Research Scientist Award (Univ. of Michigan College of Engineering, 2019). He is vice-president and a member of the Board of Directors of the International Society for Electrostatic Precipitation (ISESP); serves on the Mitigation and Control Technology working group, Awards Committee, and Representation & Equity Affairs Committee of the American Association for Aerosol Research; and is co-founder and acting CEO of the startup company Taza Aya LLC. He earned an S.B. in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from MIT (1987) and an M.S. (1997) and Ph.D. (1998) in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.