DESCRIPTION: Airborne transmission of respiratory viruses has been historically misunderstood and undervalued, partly due to the difficulty of mechanically capturing and isolating infectious viruses from aerosols. Although severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19) and influenza virus infections arise from the inhalation of virus-laden aerosols, the precise infectious dose released in respiratory aerosols (and subsequently inhaled by others) is unknown. Closing this knowledge gap will promote the utilization of non-pharmaceutical interventions designed to mitigate airborne transmission (i.e., well-fitted masks, ventilation, HEPA filtration, and UV air disinfection), and reduce the overall burden of COVID-19 and influenza. To achieve this goal, advanced technologies are being developed, including a compact platform for ambient air sampling, an instrument for efficient exhaled breath sampling, and more sensitive methods for the detection of infectious viruses and viral components (e.g. a hydrogel collection target, an optimized cell line for enhanced infectivity analysis, and a biosensor). This project will provide an opportunity for students to test such technology in the lab and field, recruit and directly sample influenza and/or COVID-19 cases, and perform laboratory analyses. This project addresses the need for more precise measurements of ambient and exhaled breath aerosols containing infectious respiratory pathogens. Such measurements can better inform COVID-19 and influenza transmission modeling and risk assessments and will be translated into improved infection control and respiratory virus pandemic policy.

LOCATION: In-person

IDEAL CANDIDATE: Students with strong biomedical or engineering backgrounds and some lab experience. Participating students will be trained in techniques of air sampling, cell culture, and molecular biology (RNA extraction, qRT-PCR, etc.).

PROJECT LEAD/PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR: Donald Milton, MD, DrPH, MPower Professor, School of Public Health, University of Maryland, College Park

BIO: Donald Milton | University of Maryland | School of Public Health (