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Covid-19 update: 21 May 2020

21 May 2020

A round-up of this week's coronavirus-related news and countermeasures from the photonics industry.

Teledyne Imaging is supplying charged coupled devices for Covid-19 diagnostic scientific instruments. These highly sensitive image sensors are used for low-light imaging applications such as microscopy and other scientific imaging techniques deployed for research and diagnostic testing of Covid-19. Recently, the UK CCD Fabrication team have been producing hundreds of CCD77-358 devices that will be designed into camera systems to support Covid-19 diagnostics.

Miles Adcock, President of Teledyne e2v Space & Quantum, commented, “The Coronavirus outbreak has triggered increased demand and interest for CCD and CMOS sensors. We expect to have manufactured several times the forecast annual demand for the CCD77-358 devices by the end of this quarter alone.”

The CCD77-358 sensor is back-illuminated and has an image resolution of 512x512 pixels, a large pixel size of 24µm in size and a high dynamic range. Teledyne has advanced wafer-processing facilities in the UK and Canada. The company says it is committed to the provision of a long-term vertically integrated, dedicated CCD fab and continues to make technology developments to the design and production of CCDs.

The European Commission has published a photonics related Covid-19 call for research proposals: SC1-PHE-Coronavirus 2020-2B Medical Technologies, Digital Tools and Artificial Intelligence Analytics. The deadline for proposals is 11th June 2020.

The call for proposals seeks for innovation actions which:

  • Support solutions that are close-to-market in one of the Covid-19 areas that have already received, or are about to receive, the CE marking to proceed to large scale testing, piloting and deployment operations in critical healthcare areas (type 1);
  • Support market innovation (from lab-to-fab) for further developing and maturing innovative solutions that have already been validated in lab environments (TRL 6-7 or higher) with the aim to help accelerate developments and achieve conformity assessment CE type 2.

The proposed actions could encompass a combination of tools and technologies, such as: microelectronics, micro/nano/cyber-physical systems; bio-functionalized chips and biosensor arrays; bio-photonics; graphene or related materials; data, AI and robotics; pathogen detection technologies; e-health, telemedicine and digital solutions. Further details are available on the the relevant section of the European Commission website.

Xenex Disinfection Services, based in San Antonio, TX, has announced that its LightStrike pulsed xenon disinfection robot, based on ultraviolet disinfection technology, can deactivate coronavirus that causes Covid-19. Testing of this capability was performed at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, a leading independent research institute working exclusively on infectious diseases.

Xenex’s Germ-Zapping Robots™ use a xenon lamp to generate bursts of high intensity, full germicidal spectrum (200-315nm) UVC light. Different pathogens are susceptible to UVC light at different wavelengths. With full germicidal spectrum light, Xenex LightStrike robots can quickly deactivate viruses, bacteria and spores without damaging hospital materials or equipment.

Dr. Mark Stibich, Chief Scientific Officer and co-founder of Xenex, commented, “As we discuss and plan for re-entry, disinfection of public spaces is a major priority to reduce the risk of disease transmission. Putting an effective infection prevention infrastructure in place now is essential. Our robots have been adopted as the environmental standard of care by many of the world’s leading hospitals because they work – and quickly.”

Social distancing sensors for factories work with with new app

ProGlove, a developer of wearables for industry, has created a smart solution to help workers maintain proper social distance. Leveraging its mark range of wearable barcode scanners and the ProGlove Connect app for Android, the company has announced a product upgrade that activates proximity sensing for frontline workers in a factory/workplace environment. ProGlove notes that, “with production lines set to resume operations, safety and efficiency are paramount.

The ProGlove Connect Proximity app provides an additional layer of feedback on an Android device alone or when paired with a ProGlove Mark barcode scanner which rests on the employee's hand. When paired with the Mark wearable scanner and an Android device, workers coming within close proximity of each other are alerted. Alerts come via a range of options on the wearable scanner including audio, LED light-flash, and vibration signals.

“We tested the Mark upgrade in-house and it works beautifully. We're now rolling it out on our own assembly line,” said Konstantin Brunnbauer, VP of Production for ProGlove. “For my team it is easy to want to fall back into old patterns of working together but with this extra reminder we can maintain safe distance.”

Toptica joins birthday party for the laser on IDL2020

On May 16th, 1960, Theodore Maiman saw laser light for the first time, laser maker Toptica reminds visitors to its website. But in the context of the global Covid-19 lockdown, the Munich-based company asks, “How can we celebrate this major event for photonics in times of Corona and social distancing?” To answer this challenging question, a group of Toptica staff have designed individual “laser face masks”, decorated with various subjects from physics, optics and laser applications (see left).

Considering the big birthday and the International Day Of Light, Wilhelm Kaenders, Toptica’s CTO, states on the company’s website: “As is well known, soon after Maiman’s initial laser demonstration, someone quipped that the laser was a solution looking for a problem. Then the world‘s industry clearly got the message. In the six decades since, the laser has spawned a global market estimated by Strategies Unlimited at more than US$16.6 billion annually and is a key enabler for our modern society.”

In the area of medical applications, topically, Kaenders adds that for ultrafast techniques such as multiphoton microscopy, only fiber lasers are compact, convenient and efficient enough to drive the transition of applications from research labs to the clinic. “A unit that once required a cubic meter of space and kilowatts of electrical power, he says, can now “be served out of a shoebox-sized device.”

TU Eindhoven debugs face mask theories

Since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out some time around the end of 2019, a subject of much debate has been the efficacy and worth of wearing face masks, which are increasingly worn out of choice and indeed mandatory in some countries. The Technical University of Eindhoven (TU/e), The Netherlands, has this week published an informative interview with Professors Kitty Nijmeijer and Bert Blocken, membrane materials and aerodynamics experts, respectively, on their professional opinions around this hot topic.

Bert Blocken, professor at the Department of the Built Environment, emphasizes the difference between medical standard “FFP2” masks, which protect the wearer against external virus particles, and the more generic face masks often recommended for use on public transport or elsewhere in public.

“The main purpose of this second type of mask is to prevent the wearer from infecting others via droplets emitted during sneezing, coughing, or even talking,” says Blocken. As this type is permeable to smaller droplets that drift through the air, known as aerosols, it does not offer the wearer any significant protection.

The effectiveness of “simple” face masks stands or falls by their correct use, Blocken adds. “If you put it on incorrectly, or touch it with your hands, it won't work or will even have an adverse effect. So I certainly understand the criticism that face masks could give a false sense of security.”

Prof. Kitty Nijmeijer says she sees “little benefit in the use of non-medical face masks, precisely for this reason.” She heads up the Membrane Materials and Processes group at TU/e, where she researches the various ways synthetic membranes can be used. Coronavirus is about a tenth of a micrometer in diameter. “If you want to stop it with a simple filter, you are going to need such small pores that you won't be able to breathe,” she says. “Medical face masks contain an electrostatic layer to which the virus particles adhere, which gives scope for using larger pores.”

Simple face masks, if worn at all, must be replaced every few hours and washed before reuse – at 60°C at least. Nijmeijer adds, “Otherwise face masks themselves become a source of viruses. Non-medical masks may stop larger droplets but in so doing they obviously become wet, and the virus thrives in a moist environment.“ In view of this, Nijmeijer herself is determined to stick with the two-meter distance rule.

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