Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering working to combat COVID-19

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What a difference six months makes!

In February 2020, I profiled Dr. Sherine Obare. She’s the dean of the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering in southeast Greensboro.

She also gave me a tour of the facility which was established about 10 years ago through a collaboration between two sister universities: UNC-Greensboro and North Carolina A&T State University.

Students and faculty were working on everything from developing chemotherapy that doesn’t cause side effects to materials that are more absorbent.

The next month, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“We had to transition everything to educating everybody online which typically with our science labs and the research that we do, it’s not possible,” Obare told me recently.

Fast forward to today. The school is back open. 120 graduate students and 19 faculty members are back in the building working on materials at the cellular or “nano” level. (Think small. Really small.)

And when you think about it, this couldn’t be a more perfect place to fight COVID-19.

“The coronavirus is at the nano level,” Obare said. “So the nanoscience part is really focusing on and trying to understand how the virus behaves. In terms of nanoengineering aspects, we want to develop better materials that can capture it and degrade it. And in addition to that, we also want to figure out ways by which we can detect it.”

Four faculty members/researchers at the Joint School have each recently received $250,000 state grants to work on pandemic-related projects.

Dr. Lefeng Zhang and Dr. Kristen Dellinger have started work on a device that can detect the virus in the air, both indoors and outdoors.

Dr. Tetyan Ignatova is working on a handheld device for home use that can detect whether a person’s been infected.

And Dr. Reza Zadegan has started work on a robotic device that can detect the virus via a saliva sample without the need for a lab or a technician to administer the test or analyze the result.

But like most of the research that happens here, it will take time. Much of this COVID-19 work is a good year from being completed.

Even so, Dr. Obare is optimistic.

“We see countries around the world that have been able to get rid of it. That’s what gives me a lot of hope,” she told me.

“Scientists and engineers have some work to do. And then the community has some work to do (following the recommended guidelines to prevent spread and give the scientific/engineering community to catch up and develop successful devices/treatments/vaccines) but we will do it, and we will get through it.”

For more information on the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering, click here.

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