Patty Wellborn

Email: patty-wellborn@news.ok.ubc.ca


 

Pulp mill waste hits the road instead of the landfill

Waste materials from the pulp and paper industry have long been seen as possible fillers for building products like cement, but for years these materials have ended up in the landfill. Now, researchers at UBC Okanagan are developing guidelines to use this waste for road construction in an environmentally friendly manner.

The researchers were particularly interested in wood-based pulp mill fly ash (PFA), which is a non-hazardous commercial waste product. The North American pulp and paper industry generates more than one million tons of ash annually by burning wood in power boiler units for energy production. When sent to a landfill, the producer shoulders the cost of about $25 to $50 per ton, so mills are looking for alternative usages of these by-products.

“Anytime we can redirect waste to a sustainable alternative, we are heading in the right direction,” says Dr. Sumi Siddiqua, associate professor at UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering. Dr. Siddiqua leads the Advanced Geomaterials Testing Lab, where researchers uncover different reuse options for industry byproducts.

This new research co-published with Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr. Chinchu Cherian investigated using untreated PFA as an economically sustainable low-carbon binder for road construction.

“The porous nature of PFA acts like a gateway for the adhesiveness of the other materials in the cement that enables the overall structure to be stronger and more resilient than materials not made with PFA,” says Dr. Cherian. “Through our material characterization and toxicology analysis, we found further environmental and societal benefits that producing this new material was more energy efficient and produced low-carbon emissions.”

But Dr. Siddiqua notes the construction industry is concerned that toxins used in pulp and paper mills may leach out of the reused material.

“Our findings indicate because the cementation bonds developed through the use of the untreated PFA are so strong, little to no release of chemicals is apparent. Therefore, it can be considered as a safe raw material for environmental applications.”

While Dr. Cherian explains that further research is required to establish guidelines for PFA modifications to ensure its consistency, she is confident their research is on the right track.

“Overall, our research affirms the use of recycled wood ash from pulp mills for construction activities such as making sustainable roads and cost-neutral buildings can derive enormous environmental and economic benefits,” she says. “And not just benefits for the industry, but to society as a whole by reducing waste going to landfills and reducing our ecological footprints.”

In the meantime, while cement producers can start incorporating PFA into their products, Dr. Cherian says they should be continually testing and evaluating the PFA properties to ensure overall quality.

The research was published in the Journal of Cleaner Production with support from the Bio-Alliance Initiative — an organization representing BC pulp and paper mills — and Mitacs.

UBCO postdoctoral research fellow Chinchu Cherian, along with Associate Professor Sumi Siddiqua, examines a road building material created partly with recycled wood ash.

UBCO postdoctoral research fellow Chinchu Cherian, along with Associate Professor Sumi Siddiqua, examines a road-building material created partly with recycled wood ash.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Dr. Jian Liu conducts research in materials and interface design for next-generation battery technologies.

Dr. Jian Liu conducts research in materials and interface design for next-generation battery technologies.

UBCO professor works to create safe, energy-dense, renewable batteries

With increasing global efforts to adopt clean energy, developing sustainable storage systems has become a major challenge in getting electric vehicles on the road and integrating intermittent renewable energy resources into the grid.

Dr. Jian Liu is an assistant professor with UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering. He runs the Advanced Materials for Energy Storage Lab where he researches materials and interface design for next-generation battery technologies. His team of researchers is looking for ways to develop renewable technologies, contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and increase public awareness and education of renewable energy.

Liu recently published a paper in the Journal of Power Sources about creating zinc-ion batteries. These zinc-ion batteries have shown the merits of intrinsic safety and high energy densities at low costs. He shares the science behind the basic battery, how batteries are evolving and the importance they have in today’s technology.

In layperson terms, how does a battery work?

A battery works by moving electrons and ions back and forward between negative and positive electrodes via different paths. Electrons diffuse through external circuits to power up devices, while ions mitigate the energy inside the battery. During the charging process, electrons and ions move from the positive electrode to the negative electrode with energy stored and visa-versa during the discharge process with energy released.

We are all familiar with the batteries we use in our electronics and electric vehicles. How are batteries changing?

Over the past decades, we have witnessed the rapid adoption of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries in various applications, ranging from portable electronics to electric vehicles and grid storage. The dramatically increasing demand requires rechargeable batteries to be smaller, more energy-dense, safer and cheaper. And at the same time, this demand drives the current evolution in new battery chemistry, such as solid-state batteries, aqueous zinc-ion batteries, etc.

Are there other applications where batteries will soon become commonplace? For example, aviation?

Rechargeable batteries have been increasingly used in electric flights and marine applications to reduce carbon footprints. They are also used in wireless and intelligent devices, such as health monitoring sensors, Internet of Things and life-saving devices. Moreover, rechargeable batteries are popularly used in electric bicycles.

How is battery technology becoming more sustainable?

The development of efficient and cost-effective battery recycling processes is a key to close the loop for battery technology and make it sustainable. Current batteries use many elements with limited reserves, such as lithium, cobalt and nickel. Determining how to properly recycle the valued components from retired vehicle batteries is an urgent task to avoid potential adverse environmental impacts from battery disposal.

Currently, if you want batteries to hold a charge for longer, I recommend charging them at room temperature when the remaining battery level is about 20 per cent. This will also improve the lifetime of batteries, meaning they don’t need to be recycled as often

What’s the next big thing on the horizon?

The solid-state battery is one of the impending battery innovations on the horizon to bring breakthroughs in energy storage sectors. It will fundamentally address the safety issue associated with lithium-ion batteries, such as overheating or exploding, due to the use of solid electrolytes. This can potentially increase the driving range of electric vehicles beyond 500 Km per charge. Aqueous zinc-ion batteries are also promising safe and low-cost energy storage solutions for large-scale grid storage to meet the increasing need from intermittent renewable energy, such as wind and solar.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Assistant Professor of Teaching Dean Richert and student Ram Dershan prepare a workstation that will be used for the industrial automation micro-credential course.

Assistant Professor of Teaching Dean Richert and student Ram Dershan prepare a workstation that will be used for the industrial automation micro-credential course.

Short-duration, competency-based options aim to help community members improve skills

With an increasing need for continued education among those looking to build their knowledge in high-demand fields, UBC Okanagan has launched two micro-credential programs as part of its career and personal education portfolio. The first of their kind at UBCO, the two new micro-credentials will focus on the fields of technical communication and industrial automation.

“Micro-credentials are short programs that are often competency-based and are designed to respond to the needs of industry,” says Ananya Mukherjee Reed, provost and vice-president academic at UBC Okanagan. “They enable UBC Okanagan to offer unique learning opportunities alongside our academic programs that reflect the evolving education needs of today’s workforce.”

The new micro-credentials are part of British Columbia’s $4 million in funding for similar initiatives across the province. UBCO’s two new programs are delivered online and learners will earn a non-credit letter of proficiency, which includes a traditional paper copy of the credential and one or more digital badges which can be shared on their professional social media profiles.

The Critical Skills for Communications in the Technical Sector course, offered through the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, focuses on developing skills to communicate information accurately, succinctly and unambiguously and is intended for those working or seeking employment in a technical field.

Dr. Edward Hornibrook, head of the Department of Earth, Environmental and Geographic Sciences and host of the new credential at UBCO, says the ability to communicate complex topics in a way that can be generally understood is a critical skill for employees across a breadth of industries.

“The program offers eight modules that focus on everything from improving grammar and style to better engaging with clients to producing successful technical proposals,” he says. “While many people focus on developing their technical abilities, this program is a great opportunity to improve on communication skills and will help participants get their ideas out in a clear and concise way—something that can bring a world of new opportunities for those seeking employment or wishing to advance their current position.”

Skills in Industrial Automation, offered through the School of Engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science, brings together theory with hands-on practice. Participants have the opportunity to use industry-standard tools to learn about and develop automated systems.

“Not only are these programs designed in close collaboration with industry partners to ensure they provide real value in a professional context, but also students get to hone their skills in a flexible way and network with other people in their fields with the same interests,” says Dr. Homayoun Najjaran, associate director of manufacturing engineering and creator of the industrial automation micro-credential. “This is a new and exciting offering from UBCO and one that’s going to benefit employers and individuals alike.”

While the Skills in Industrial Automation micro-credential is full, Critical Skills for Communications in the Technical Sector is open for enrolment. For more information on both programs visit: provost.ok.ubc.ca/cpe

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Associate Professor Hadi Mohammadi is the lead researcher at UBCO’s Heart Valve Performance Lab.

Associate Professor Hadi Mohammadi is the lead researcher at UBCO’s Heart Valve Performance Lab.

A twist on the decade’s-old design improves blood flow, prevents clots

New research coming out of UBC’s Okanagan campus may take the current ‘gold standard’ for heart valves to a new level of reliability.

A team of researchers at UBCO’s Heart Valve Performance Lab (HVPL) has developed a way to improve overall blood flow through the valves, so the design of mechanical heart valves will more closely match the real thing.

“Despite more than 40 years of research, we are still chasing the goal of creating mechanical heart valves that perform consistently and seamlessly inside the human body,” explains Dr. Hadi Mohammadi, an associate professor at the School of Engineering and lead researcher for the HVPL. “The way blood travels through the body is very unique to a person’s physiology, so a ‘one-size fits all’ valve has always been a real challenge.”

Mohammadi, along with doctoral student Arpin Bhullar, has developed an innovative mechanical bileaflet that enables the mechanical heart valve to function just like the real thing. A bileaflet valve—two semicircular leaflets that pivot on hinges—is a mechanical gateway that allows consistent blood-flow and ensures the flow is in one direction.

While developed decades ago and used regularly to improve a patient’s blood flow, artificial valves have never been perfect, says Mohammadi. With existing versions of bileaflets, there is a small risk of blood clots or even a backflow of blood.

The design of the bileaflet is crucial for maintaining blood flow in order to eliminate risk to the patient. Mohammadi believes he’s found a way to fix the problem, by adding a slight twist to the design.

“Our findings show our apex heart valve maintains consistent flow as a result of its breakthrough design—specifically the valve’s curvature which mitigates clotting.”

The initial design was confirmed by Dr. Guy Fradet, head of Kelowna General Hospital’s cardiothoracic surgery program. Mohammadi says it takes decades for innovations in mechanical heart valves before they are used on humans, but he is confident his novel leaflet-shaped valve is the way of the future.

“The work we’re doing has resulted in the design of a valve which may serve as the foundation for the next generation of bileaflet mechanical heart valves,” he says. “Our research, with computer simulation and in-vitro studies, helped evaluate the performance of the proposed valve and also compare it to the industry gold standard.”

The findings, published in the Journal of Medical Engineering and Technology, suggest additional experimentation is still needed to confirm the valve’s effectiveness. The researchers are now in the process of developing 3D-printed, carbon and aluminum prototypes of the valve for further testing. The research is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

UBCO researchers Farhad Ahmadijokani and Mohammad Arjmand have developed a cost-effective material that can help remove toxic chemicals, like cancer-treatment drugs, from water supplies.

UBCO researchers Farhad Ahmadijokani and Mohammad Arjmand have developed a cost-effective material that can help remove toxic chemicals, like cancer-treatment drugs, from water supplies.

UBCO researchers help protect people from toxic chemicals

‘What goes in, must come out’ is a familiar refrain. It is especially pertinent to the challenges facing UBC researchers who are investigating methods to remove chemicals and pharmaceuticals from public water systems.

Cleaning products, organic dyes and pharmaceuticals are finding their way into water bodies with wide-ranging negative implications to health and the environment, explains Mohammad Arjmand, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at UBC Okanagan.

And while pharmaceuticals like a chemotherapy drug called methotrexate can be highly effective for patients, once the drugs vacate their bodies they become a high risk for human health and the environment.

“Methotrexate is an anti-cancer drug used at a high dose in chemotherapy to treat cancer, leukemia, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases,” he says. “However, the drug is not absorbed by the body and ends up in water channels from hospital waste, sewage and surface waters.”

Removing these types of contaminants from wastewater can be costly and complicated explains Arjmand, who is a Canada Research Chair in Advanced Materials and Polymer Engineering.

“We work on modifying the structure of adsorbent nanomaterials to control their ability to attract or repel chemicals,” says Arjmand.

While his team of researchers was looking at methods to remove the anti-cancer drugs from water supplies—they designed a porous nanomaterial, called a metal-organic framework (MOF), that is capable of adsorbing these pollutants from water.

Adsorption, he explains, takes place when the molecules of a chemical adhere to the surface of a solid substance—in this case, the chemotherapy drug sticks to the surface of the adsorbent, which is Arjmand’s MOF.

“We precisely engineer the structure of our MOFs to remove the anti-cancer drug from aqueous solutions quickly,” says Farhad Ahmadijokani, a doctoral student in the Nanomaterials and Polymer Nanocomposites Laboratory directed by Arjmand.

Arjmand points out the MOF is an affordable technique for the removal of chemicals from liquids and waters and is an effective method to improve wastewater systems.

“The high-adsorption capacity, good recyclability and excellent structural stability make our MOF an impressive candidate for the removal of methotrexate from the aqueous solutions,” he adds. “Our research shows that particular pharmaceutical can be adsorbed rapidly and effectively onto our aluminum-based metal-organic framework.”

The research was conducted in collaboration with UBC, Sharif University of Technology and the pharmaceutical engineering department at the Soniya College of Pharmacy. It is published in the latest edition of the Journal of Environmental Management.

bout UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Class project may change the entire shipping industry

A UBCO student project developed a method to make shipping containers immediately identifiable by using artificial intelligence.

With hundreds of thousands of packages and shipments crossing the globe, especially during the holiday season, the industry has turned to UBC Okanagan researchers to develop better ways to track parcels.

Marine shipping accounts for 20 per cent of all Canadian imports and exports, so there’s little wonder that the maritime transportation industry is keen on improving its tracking capabilities, says UBCO’s Zheng Liu.

Liu, a professor in the School of Engineering, says his team of student researchers are using deep learning algorithms, including cloud computing technology, to help create a monitoring software that can be used by shipping companies to track shipments more effectively.

“Deep learning works like the human brain by making smart conclusions with the information at hand,” explains Liu. “Our algorithm takes the shipping container code, even one that is not clearly legible, and is able to extract its information accurately.”

When shipped, containers use a common code that tells the monitoring software where the container is from and where it is going. The researchers were looking to improve existing methods—today’s systems locate the code on the container, and then quickly and accurately recognize the code.

By using a state-of-the art algorithm and advanced tracking hardware, the researchers were able to get the system to recognize the tracking information in less than a second. In comparison with the manual check and entry, the solution can greatly improve efficiency at the port.

In collaboration with CANSCAN, a company that uses artificial intelligence to secure shipping containers, the UBC student researchers have been developing tools for use at the Port of Montreal, which is an international container port that services Toronto and the rest of central Canada. The port tracks nearly two million containers annually—and these containers are currently being tracked with manual systems.

The student project, called Applying Machine Vision and Artificial Intelligence to Maritime Transportation, won top prize at the school’s capstone engineering contest last spring. The goal was to make the shipping containers immediately identifiable using artificial intelligence. This research will free up time for workers at the port who still input data manually.

“By digitizing the logistics of shipping containers, it helps to further improve shipping transportation to ultimately ensure that packages destined for our doorstep arrive on-time while being tracked from the sender to us,” says Liu.

The research, with funding from Mitacs, was published in the latest edition of the IEEE Xplore journal.

 

School of Engineering Mohammad Zarifi has made significant improvements to the real-time sensors that monitor frost and ice build-up on airplanes and turbines.

School of Engineering Mohammad Zarifi has made significant improvements to the real-time sensors that monitor frost and ice build-up on airplanes and turbines.

Ice detection from microwave sensors rising to new heights

New UBC Okanagan research is changing the way aircraft and wind turbine operators are addressing the risks related to ice build-up. In a follow-up study from one released previously this year, Assistant Professor Mohammad Zarifi and his team at UBCO’s Okanagan MicroElectronics and Gigahertz Applications (OMEGA) Lab, have broadened the scope and functionality of their ice sensors. “We received a great deal of interest from the aviation and renewable energy industries stemming from our initial findings which pushed us to expand the boundaries of the sensor’s responsiveness and accuracy,” explains Zarifi. Ice build-up on aircraft and wind turbines can impact the safety and efficiency of their systems, he notes. In this latest research, the researchers focused on improving the real-time response of the sensors to determining frost and ice build-up. The sensors can identify in real-time these accumulations while calculating the rate of melting. This is crucial data for aviation, for keeping flights on time, and renewable energy applications, says Zarifi. “Power generation output of wind turbines diminishes as a result of ice accumulations,” he adds. “So, the industry sees great promise in sensing and de-icing solutions that can mitigate those reductions in efficiency.” Zarifi says the patented sensor, which includes a protective layer, is now being tested by the aviation industry through a rigorous approval process. This needs to be done before it can become a permanent fixture on aircraft. He notes that recently announced funding from the Department of National Defense will enable his team to continue to improve the sensor’s capabilities. Zarifi is also collaborating with a number of wind turbine companies to adapt the sensors into wind farms. The wind farm application is a slightly more straightforward proposition, he says, because the sensors can be mounted at the same altitude of the blades without having to be mounted to the blades—this removes certain calculation variables that are related to motion. In the midst of these breakthroughs, the researchers have uncovered another first when it comes to ice sensing technology. Their latest innovation can sense salty ice, which freezes at colder temperatures. Interest in understanding and monitoring saltwater ice formation is increasing due to issues caused by saltwater ice on oil rigs and marine infrastructure. Zarifi and his team at OMEGA Lab are working towards the introduction of microwave/radar-based technology to address this challenge. By incorporating an antenna into the sensor, the results can be shared in real-time with the operator in order to address the build-up. Zarifi says his team is as excited as the industry partners to see how their microwave and antenna, which have proven to be durable and robust, can be modified for various applications including ice and moisture sensing. The research was funded by a National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grant, Mitacs Accelerate Grant, and grants from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and the Canadian Department of National Defense. It was published in the journal Applied Materials and Interfaces.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Photo caption: UBCO researchers Negin Kazemian and her supervisor, Assistant Professor Sepideh Pakpour, are investigating the internal dynamics of fecal matter donors and recipients to determine the effectiveness of the therapy.

Genetic analysis helps ensure successful fecal microbiota transplants

Could number two be number one when it comes to combating recurrent Clostridium difficile (CDI) infections? Using genetic material analysis and machine learning, UBC researchers have pinpointed several key factors to ensure successful fecal microbiota transplants (FMT), which have proven successful in treating bacterial infections in the gut including illnesses like C. difficile, Crohn’s Disease, Colitis and even obesity, explains lead author Negin Kazemian. “This therapy is still in its infancy, but studies like ours are helping identify key contributors to its overall success,” says Kazemian, a graduate student at UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering. Kazemian and her supervisor, Assistant Professor Sepideh Pakpour, are investigating the internal dynamics of both donors and recipients to set out a formula for the effectiveness of the therapy. C. difficile is one of the most frequently identified health care-associated infection in North America, she adds. Once a patient gets it, the illness often recurs, making a significant negative impact on a patient’s gut microorganisms. Kazemian explains that severely damaged gut ecosystems, like someone who has had C. difficile, are not self-renewing. Therefore, FMT can help by restoring damaged systems through the recreation of the original ecosystem, or the construction of an entirely new and alternative ecosystem. “In our study, we showed that the success of gut ecological recovery through FMT is dependent on several factors, including the donor gut microbiome—the presence of specific bacteria—as well as the recipient’s pre-FMT gut community structures and the absence of specific bacteria and fungi.” Some previous studies have pointed to the possibility of “super” donors, but these new findings indicate the relationship between donors and recipients is much more complex. Pakpour says the notion of the super-donor is oversimplified due to the observed short-term fluctuations. A recipient’s microbiota may be just as important to consider when predicting treatment outcomes, especially in unbalanced conditions such as ulcerative colitis. “Take, for example, blood transplants where we have a strong understanding of the four main blood groups or types, and how they interact with one another,” says Pakpour. “With fecal transplants the research up to this point has not been as clear in what constitutes a good match or compatibility.” Working with data from the University of Alberta Hospital, Kazemian and Pakpour analyzed the gut composition and DNA from samples extracted before and after FMT. According to Kazemian, their findings indicate that there isn’t a “one stool fits all” approach to ensure transplant success. “The data illustrates that the unique microorganisms in everyone’s bodies respond differently over time, and this has profound implications on whether these transplants work well or not.” The researchers suggest that preparing donors and patients’ gut ecosystems prior to transplant, maybe by using metabolites, would potentially sync their microbiota leading the way to a higher probability of transplant success. The new research is published in Nature Research’s Scientific Report.
UBCO master's student Behrooz Khatir measures liquid to be applied to an omniphobic film during testing inside the OPERA lab at UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering.

UBCO master's student Behrooz Khatir measures liquid to be applied to an omniphobic film during testing inside the OPERA lab at UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering.

New coating can eliminate complex disinfectant procedures for protective face shields

Acting like an invisible force field, a new liquid coating being developed by UBC Okanagan researchers may provide an extra layer of protection for front-line workers.

Researchers at the Okanagan Polymer Engineering Research and Applications (OPERA) Lab have developed a coating that repels nearly all substances off a surface. And that new coating will make cleaning personal protective equipment a little bit easier for front-line health care workers, explains Kevin Golovin, an assistant professor at UBCO’s School of Engineering and director at OPERA.

Surfaces that can repel a broad range of liquids are called omniphobic, explains UBCO master's student and lead author of the study Behrooz Khatir. Working in Golovin’s lab, Khatir has created a spray-on solution that can make any surface, including a face shield, omniphobic.

“Omniphobic—all-liquid repellent—films can repel a broad range of liquids, but the applicability of these coatings has always been limited to silicon wafers or smooth glass,” says Khatir. “This new formulation can coat and protect just about any surface, including metals, paper, ceramics and even plastics.”

The two-layer coating involves placing an ultra-smooth silica layer on a surface and then functionalizing this layer with a highly-reactive silicone to effectively block all kinds of liquids from sticking on the surface, explains Golovin.

Not only does the coating repel countless substances, but even under harsh exposures like UV light, acids and high temperatures, the coating maintains its resistance qualities. And Golovin notes, if the coating does become damaged it can be easily and repeatedly repaired, fully restoring the omniphobic properties to their initial state.

Golovin recently received COVID-19 funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) to optimize the coating for health care face shields so they stay clean, in partnership with Kelowna-based survivability products manufacturer PRE Labs Inc.

“This technology has many applications, but we are currently focused on providing a solution that will keep our nurses and doctors safe and effective,” says Golovin. “This new coating will prevent droplets or microbes from sticking to a face shield. This makes disinfecting face shields feasible just with water rather than requiring complex disinfectant procedures.”

The original research was recently published in the ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces journal, with funding support from NSERC.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

New device aims to isolate and remove droplets and airborne viruses

UBC Okanagan researchers are collaborating with Kelowna-based Care Health Meditech to develop a new device that isolates and eliminates airborne droplets and germs associated with COVID-19 and other illnesses.

With operating principles similar to a vacuum hood, the Airborne Infection Isolation and Removal (AIIR) device is initially targeted at the dental industry to improve the safety of both staff and patients. Many dental procedures generate aerosols, or small droplets of saliva and blood, that are ejected into the air. These aerosols float in the room and can contain dangerous particles that contain viruses like SARS-COV2, influenza, tuberculosis, HPV and aerosolized mercury, explains Care Health Meditech Managing Partner Stephen Munro.

“To aid in the development of AIIR, we turned to UBC researchers for their expertise in multiphase flows and computational fluid dynamics which will help evolve the design ensuring its effectiveness,” Munro says.

Transmission of the COVID-19 virus is thought to occur through breathing in respiratory droplets, touching contaminated surfaces or inhaling particles in the air. According to Munro, the key to controlling the transmission is to isolate and eliminate COVID-19 contaminated air and droplets, particularly aerosols.

While the AIIR device is currently being used by some dentists, UBCO researchers are now looking at ways to improve the design through computational fluid dynamics simulation and specific testing in Associate Professor Sunny Li’s Thermal Management and Multiphase Flows lab.

“Our team is looking at the device’s size and geometry in connection with its airflow dynamics and the dynamics of droplets and particles to make it more accurate and efficient,” says Li, who teaches multiphase flows and is one of the lead researchers on the project.

Li is working with Assistant Professors Joshua Brinkerhoff and Sina Kheirkhah from the School of Engineering, and Associate Professor Jonathan Little from the School of Health and Exercise Sciences to provide design modifications and recommendations.

During testing, dental procedures will be mimicked in the lab with a dental mannequin connected to a breathing simulator. Particle Imaging Velocimetry and High-speed Shadow Photography Imaging will be used to visualize airflow and track the motion of all droplets. Droplet motion and trajectory can vary depending on the droplet size and local airflow, explains Li.

While work is being done in the labs to optimize and improve the device for frontline acute healthcare settings, due to high demand Care Health Meditech’s initial AIIR device is already being delivered to dentists in both Canada and the USA.

“Although we are targeting the dental industry, there’s an opportunity to expand into other areas where the risk of airborne infection is high,” says Munro, adding his company has already developed in-house manufacturing capabilities for the device.

“The AIIR has the potential to reduce the risk of patients and dentists being exposed to the COVID-19 virus, and will allow dentistry to return to near-normal procedures,” says Munro. “This is significant for Canada and the world as it reduces the need for production and the purchase of personal protection equipment (PPE) and in a few years we aim to have the potential to reduce the need for PPE and N95 respirators for routine procedures in hospitals, doctor’s offices and care facilities.”

The research is funded by a Mitacs Accelerate Grant.

UBC Associate Professor Sunny Li, right, discusses adaptations to the Airborne Infection Isolation and Removal system, with his doctoral student Mojtaba Zabihi and Care Health Meditech Managing Partner Stephen Munro, centre.

UBC Associate Professor Sunny Li, right, discusses adaptations to the Airborne Infection Isolation and Removal system, with his doctoral student Mojtaba Zabihi and Care Health Meditech Managing Partner Stephen Munro, centre.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca