Following the successful application of upper-room UV disinfection systems in hospitals, educational institutions are joining the bandwagon to adopt the same technology to create a disease-free learning environment. One such name is Penn State University, which has announced its plans to investigate the possibility of using UV-light based aerosol disinfection in unoccupied classrooms to mitigate chances of Covid-19 infection among students. The research is being funded by Penn State’s Office of the Physical Plant (OPP) via a $125,000 grant.  

The news comes at a time when several establishments throughout the country are looking for possible solutions to keep everyone safe during the on-going pandemic. With this research, Penn State officials hope to find a robust solution to disinfect large spaces like classrooms via aerosol disinfection using UV light. 

According to Kaiser Health Newsresearchers have been working with germicidal UV technology driven by concerns around coronaviruses, and Covid-19 in particular that can travel via microscopic floating particles known as aerosols. They feel upper-air disinfection via UV light technology can prove to be a vital solution to combat this issue.

Rick Mistrick, associate professor of architectural engineering, and principal investigator for the two-year project, titled ‘Ultraviolet-Germicidal Irradiation for Control of COVID-19 in University Classrooms’ was quoted by Penn State saying, “Ultraviolet light disinfection seems to be promising compared to other disinfection optionsThe idea is to expose room air to UV light in the form of a fixture that irradiates roughly the upper two feet of the room volume along the ceiling”. 

Upper-room UV disinfection systems can be placed either in the center of a room or along a wall to effectively eliminate germs and disease-causing pathogens from the surrounding air. Such devices can be usually seen in hospital rooms and other healthcare facilities, and since there is no direct contact, can be used in the presence of human beings without any high risk of exposure. 

There are certain challenges though in its application in classrooms as not all spaces have ideal fixtures. Some may have low ceilings or outdated ventilation and filtration systems, which need to be considered before making such devices mainstream in a learning environment.  

Therefore, to check and investigate the operation of such devices in classrooms, Mistrick, along with co-principal investigator Donghyun Rim, associate professor of architectural engineering, will be conducting simulation tests on various unoccupied classrooms at Penn State. The plan is to determine how such UV disinfection systems perform according to variables like classroom size, airflow patterns, diffusion, etc. These tests will be conducted during off-hours to avoid any distractions and limit human involvement. As Rim elaboratedthe results of these tests will be considered a benchmark to take a final call in the implementation of the said technology by the Penn State OPP.  

Even though there are countless research studies being conducted on upper-room UV disinfection, Mistrick also talked about the challenges that should be addressed before such fixtures can be used in buildings. He talked about how such systems are expensive and consume energy, which is why it’s important to consider and investigate all factors before its implementation.  

Furthermore, while elaborating on UV-based surface disinfection methods, he pointed out that for such low-level systems, ‘the exposure conditions must be safe for the occupants of the spaces since the goal of the systems is to irradiate as much of the space as possible'. 

Meanwhile, as previously stated, upper-room UV disinfection systems are being used in different establishments across the US. Some are even introducing UV robots to disinfect rooms and large spaces for all-round air and surface disinfection.  

Joining the chorus, Sez Atamturktur, Harry and Arlene Schell Professor and head of the Department of Architectural Engineering, noted that UV lighting disinfection can be an effective solution to disinfect all kinds of buildings in the future.  

She told Penn State, “Like other research solutions that have come as a result of COVID-19, Penn State is supporting the most cutting-edge research in lighting and building mechanical systems.