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USF Covid Rapid Response Research Grants

Engineering Faculty Leading USF’s COVID-19 Response Efforts

This April and May, nine projects led by USF engineering professors were funded during two rounds of the USF COVID-19 Rapid Response Grants program created by the USF Pandemic Response Research Network — an interdisciplinary initiative organized by university leadership and faculty researchers to quickly respond to current and future pandemics.

Researchers across colleges at USF can submit a proposal, and projects led by engineering faculty make up almost a third of the 28 projects funded so far in the program’s first two rounds. USF researchers have until August 10 to submit project proposals for funding during the program’s upcoming third round.

Below is the full list of projects led by USF engineering faculty.

Research descriptions written and ordered by USF Research & Innovation.

Round 1 Projects

Self-Contained Acoustic Isolation and Detection System (SCAIDS) for SARS-CoV-2 and its Antibodies

PI: Dr. Venkat Bhethanabotla, College of Engineering

The current gold standard for diagnosis is PCR (polymearase chain reaction, which detects viral RNA or DNA), but PCR has several drawbacks including specialized testing facilities and an expensive processing time that can take up to 48 hours to obtain results. Other methods of testing also have considerable flaws that make widespread testing time consuming and expensive. This project proposes adapting a portable biomarker detection system — now under development by USF and Moffitt Cancer Center researchers to quantify cancer biomarkers in human blood — and adapt the platform to detect SARS-CoV-2.

Sterilization Mechanism of Corona Discharge for Masks and Environment to Combat COVID-19

PI: Dr. Ying Zhong, College of Engineering

This team proposes addressing the shortage of N95 masks using a newly created technology that can rapidly sterilize and restore the masks’ filtration effectiveness. Using the mechanism of corona discharge to destroy viruses and bacteria, this technology is under development to rapidly sterilize PPE such as single-use N95 masks for healthcare workers and make them reusable. The aim of the technology is to further reduce PPE shortage issues while protecting the safety of medical personnel. The researchers also are working to develop the technology to offer an efficient sterilization solution for other commonly shared surfaces to prevent COVID-19 spread. The USF inventors have filed a new patent application on the technology and are working to establish an industry partnership to rapidly advance the research and development of these new devices.

Rapid Development of Covid-19 Therapies and Evaluation of Side Effects

PI: Dr. Robert Frisina, Department of Medical Engineering

The project would build upon a recently received National Institutes of Health grant to study cellular autophagy pathways in epithelial cells in the cochlea, and how autophagy relates to hearing loss and deafness. The researchers report that the autophagy pathway — a relatively under-studied cellular pathway — is a leading candidate for being involved in killing the COVID-19 virus. The researchers will investigate the autophagy pathway in epithelial cells treated with two existing drugs being studied for COVID-19 infections.

Sniffing out COVID-19: A Novel Nanofilm Detector System

PI: Dr. Salvatore Morgera, College of Engineering

USF engineers are exploring the concept of developing an “electronic nose” that uses sensitive electronic systems with unique sensor array technology to test the breath of potentially infected people for COVID-19 and other coronaviruses when they are exhaled.

Round 2 Projects

Plasmonic-PECO Integrated with Mask/Respirator/Ventilator for Protection Against COVID-19

PI: Dr. Yogi Goswami, USF College of Engineering

Dr. Goswami is the inventor of Photo-electrochemical oxidation (PECO) technology, which destroys viruses and bioaerosols in the air. He has now invented a wearable device that can be integrated into a mask, respirator or ventilator.

Dispersion Modeling of Respiratory Aerosols and COVID-19 Infection Risk Analysis in Airport Terminals

PI: Dr. Andres Tejada-Martinez, College of Engineering

A recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that the virus that leads to COVID-19 remains viable in aerosols for up to three hours after emission, and that asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 can transmit the virus through breathing and speaking. A computational framework will be developed consisting of aerosol dispersion modeling validated against physical laboratory experiments and combined with infection risk analysis in common spaces. The framework will be applied to determine probabilities of aerosol transmission of COVID-19 in airport terminals.

Exploring Racial Disparities in the Treatment, Perceptions, and Tracking of COVID-19 Through Automated Stigma Detection and Sentiment Analysis of Social Media Data

PI: Dr. Tempestt Neal, College of Engineering

This project is an interdisciplinary collaboration between the USF's departments of Computer Science and Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Mental Health Law & Policy, where faculty members have expertise in text analytics, writer demographics, topical profiling, and thematic coding. The researchers will extract and study discussions on COVID-19 in the African-American community with the goal of understanding how personal experiences and stigma shape and impact understanding and perceptions of the disease. Social media trend analysis has been cited as an effective methodology for flagging, tracking, alerting and educating communities regarding the spread of a disease. The researchers are designing a machine learning tool capable of analyzing the estimated 1.64 billion tweets posted daily by African American Twitter users.

Antiviral Impermeable Polyimide-Polyurea Films and Nanomembranes for Coating PPE and Packaging: COVID-19

PI: Dr. Sylvia Thomas, College of Engineering

This project will work to develop new antiviral films and coatings that could be used on personal protective equipment and product packaging to stem the spread of the virus. The team will investigate antiviral impermeable polyimide-polyurea film and nanomembrane coatings. Research has shown that polymers can be imbued with antiviral properties through the incorporation of antiviral drugs and/or components and metal (silver and copper) nanoparticles.

COVID-19 Economic Recovery Markers from Satellite Imagery for City-Scale Decisions

PI: Dr. Sudeep Sarkar, College of Engineering

A transdisciplinary team from USF, the University of California, Berkeley, and the global satellite company Maxar Technologies based in Colorado, is collaborating to develop a new tool that would provide insight into economic activity and recovery. The project would develop economic trend forecasts based on satellite images taken at regular intervals and augmented with information from other sources such as community mobility data, flight tracker data, and railway tracking data. Satellite imagery can support analysts and policymakers' decision-making by providing a different kind of visibility into the unfolding economic changes that are not captured by other data sources, the researchers said.

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