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Covid-19 update: 18 June 2020

18 Jun 2020

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

Matthew Staymates, a mechanical engineer and fluid dynamicist at the US National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), Gaithersburg, MD, decided to analyze scientifically the effectiveness of face coverings at reducing transmission of droplets potentially contaminated with coronavirus Covid-19. However during the quarantine he needed to set up a “home lab” in which to conduct his experiments.

He writes on the NIST website, “When I’m in the laboratory, I use a number of advanced fluid flow visualization tools to help better understand and improve our ability to detect illicit drugs and explosives on surfaces, on people and in the environment.”

Schlieren Imaging

“When Covid-19 emerged as a threat to our global community, I pondered how I could use visualization tools to help. These measurement systems – such as Schlieren Imaging – excel at showing how air moves around, so it was clear to me that I could use it to create qualitative video content to illustrate the importance of wearing a face covering and the pros and cons of various kinds of homemade face coverings in an easily understandable way.”

Staymates was allowed to take parts of his scientific flow visualization equipment home. He explained, “I have a fairly elaborate woodshop at home, and this is where I set up my flow visualization gear for the experiments.” Schlieren Imaging is one of the primary tools he uses for airflow visualization experiments; it allows users to observe changes in temperature in air. Staymates explained, “If you put your face in the test zone and cough, you will see the warm air exit your lungs and shoot out of your mouth and nose as an air jet.”

The NIST Schlieren system is a sophisticated optical device, utilizing several lenses, optical components and a 45.72cm (18in) first-surface concave spherical mirror. These systems are difficult to assemble and align correctly and almost always require large, heavy laser tables for vibration stability, ease of alignment and structural rigidity. Unable to take the 725kg laser table home with him, Staymates tried something new — to build a Schlieren system using tripods and wood. After a few days of construction and alignment, it worked.

A range of mask types and other face coverings were produced by NIST Colleagues Gail Porter, Jennifer Barrick, and Amy Engelbrecht-Wiggans. Staymates investigated 26 different face coverings, each with a different geometry, fabric or material combination, and tying mechanism. After weeks of data collection, over 50 GB of video data, and literally hundreds of fake coughs, the scientist reached a clear conclusion, explained in his simple message: “cover smart, do your part, slow the spread.”

Sensor giant ams and Senova, a manufacturer of in vitro diagnostic medical devices, have successfully concluded tests to improve performance of a lateral flow-based test to detect antibodies related to the Covid-19 virus. A specially-developed sensor module based on ams’ AS7341L device enables spectrally-resolved readout of lateral flow immune assays.

The ams spectral sensor technology was successfully tested in combination with Senova´s commercially available serological IgG/M Covid-19 assay (Cleartest) which is used for confirmatory diagnostics in a later stage of the disease and in large-scale antibody screening programs.

Based on this, ams and Senova are entering into a partnership to combine the read-out technology of ams with the lateral flow-test capabilities of Senova. The two companies have agreed on realizing a disposable electronic lateral flow test towards testing for immunity against the Covid-19 virus based on antibody detection.

The device, using lateral flow technology coupled with a spectral sensor, enables a read-out that is accurate, cost effective, quantitative, and provides an objective result which requires no user interpretation. In contrast to the established PCR method, the test kit can be applied in doctor’s offices and other point-of-care situations at low cost. ams, Senova and Jabil are expected to ramp production of a CE medical-certified, disposable test kit for professional use by September 2020, and ams will aim to provision a device certified for home use in a following step.

Point-of-care diagnosis

Quidel, based in San Diego, CA, a provider of rapid diagnostic testing solutions, has received funding from the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (“BARDA”), which is part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The funding is to support the development of a point-of-care diagnostic assay based on fluorescence that could test for four respiratory viruses: SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19), Influenza A, Influenza B, and Respiratory Syncytial Virus. The respiratory virus panel would be developed to run on Quidel’s Sofia 2 flagship instrument.

Sofia 2 is Quidel’s next-generation version of its best-selling Sofia instrumented system. Sofia 2 utilizes the original Sofia fluorescent chemistry design while improving upon the graphical user interface and optics system to provide an accurate, objective and automated result in 15 minutes. The next-generation Sofia 2 system also comes connected to Virena, Quidel’s data management system, which provides aggregated, de-identified testing data in near real-time.

BARDA funding will directly support Quidel’s development of the four-virus, point-of-care test. Funding began in May, and will run through April 2021, totaling approximately $635,000. The goal of the funding is to achieve an Emergency Use Authorization for the test by the US Food and Drug Administration within the funding period.

NASA’s Johnson Space Center has joined the fight against Covid-19 with efforts underway in Houston to support the US response. The Center commented, “A national shortage of N95 masks for health care workers to combat the pandemic has providers across the nation improvising to re-use masks on the frontlines to conserve the limited supply.

NASA engineer and project lead Jeremy Jacobs commented, “I have a personal connection to the evaluation of N95 masks, because my wife is a medical professional on the frontline, with only one mask allocated for her to use and re-use daily. She has been very concerned about cross contamination between patient-to-patient and to our family.”

In answer to this crisis, Johnson material engineers and space medicine professionals, in conjunction with the Harris County Public Health Department, developed and tested a sterilization protocol to aid in the crisis.

“The project was incredibly successful in a short time,” Jacobs said. “The results have been formally communicated to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the CDC, the FDA, the US Surgeon General, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.”

Johnson Center Director Mark Geyer added, “NASA has implemented important measures to do our part to help slow the transmission of COVID-19 and protect our communities,” said. “I am extremely impressed with our team’s ability to find new tools and techniques for continuing our work and protecting our people and communities.”

Other remediation activities by staff working on NASA Covid-19 projects include:

  • VITAL Ventilator – Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (California) developed a new high-pressure ventilator for treating Covid-19 patients. The device, called VITAL (Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally), is designed to treat patients who might not require a full-featured ventilator.
  • Aerospace Valley Positive Pressure Helmet – from a collaboration between NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, Virgin Galactic and others, to address potential shortages of critical medical equipment.
  • Surface decontamination system – Engineers at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio collaborated with Ohio Company Emergency Products and Research to develop a small, portable device that decontaminates spaces in under an hour.
  • AMBUStat is being used in ambulances, police cars, and other areas to kill airborne and surface particles of viruses. Now, NASA Glenn is conducting additional research to maximize the effectiveness of this device on Covid-19.

The US Department of Energy’s Office of Technology Transitions has announced new resources for innovators to combat Covid-19 through its Lab Partnering Service and the Covid-19 Technical Assistance Program (CTAP).

Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette commented, “These programs will help transition those resources into the hands of America’s innovation community. We are grateful to all of DOE’s 17 national labs who have stepped up to facilitate access to their researchers, intellectual property and facilities during this trying time.”

Visitors to the LPS Covid-19 Portal can connect quickly with experienced researchers, browse existing patents available for licensing and get information about facilities that may be useful in their efforts to contribute to the fight against the pandemic.

The LPS previously created similar portals around events specific to the commercial space industry and artificial intelligence, but this is the first time the platform has been used to streamline access in an emergency.

CTAP will provide targeted funding to DOE’s national lab system to assist non-DOE entities working to combat the coronavirus pandemic. CTAP gives national lab researchers the ability to offer short-term, limited assistance to US-based entities dealing with particularly challenging technical hurdles.

Semiconductor industry will bounce back in 2021

The Covid-19 outbreak has disrupted supply chains throughout the world, with some industries being hit more than others. The semiconductor industry has also been impacted by the virus, as a number of manufacturers and materials suppliers in Asia—including Foxconn, one of the largest electronics manufacturers in the world—halted production throughout January and February to stop the spread. Nonetheless, despite some setbacks, market analyst Wakefield Research is forecasting that the semiconductor industry will emerge from the pandemic “stronger than before”.

Key conclusions in Wakefield’s analysis are the following:

  • Supply chains are rebounding – initial stoppages at Asian semiconductor manufacturers caused some supply shortages, but the industry has weathered the early storm.
  • As the pandemic began, key semiconductor manufacturers, like Micron in the US, used stockpiled raw materials to supplement impacted supply chains. Many of the early fears regarding supply chain shortages have not been realized.
  • Across the US and much of the western world, semiconductor manufacturers have been classified as essential businesses and remained open, due to the critical role that semiconductors play in network infrastructure.
  • However, early supply chain interruptions will combined to lower 2020 semiconductor production levels compared with previous years. Demand will vary by application – The shock of the pandemic will lower worldwide revenue for the semiconductor industry by 5% to 20% in 2020.
  • Diminished consumer spending is expected to cause a delay in consumers upgrading their phones this year, leading to a drop in demand for semiconductors used in these applications.
  • On the upside, the greater prevalence of remote working and rising share of e-commerce should drive increases in bandwidth and processing requirements, which will support some semiconductor providers.
  • Elsewhere, demand for industrial semiconductors used in medical devices such as X-ray machines, ventilators, and diagnostic equipment is rising rapidly. Increased artificial intelligence capabilities, driven by the need for population monitoring, will also be a tailwind.

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