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COVID-19 Research Projects

linsey marr
Linsey Marr, the Charles P. Lunsford Professor at Virginia Tech, is an expert in the airborne transmission of infectious disease, has been testing the efficacy of sterilized N95 respirators and alternative mask materials in filtering out particles. Photo by Peter Means.

In immediate response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Virginia Tech faculty, staff, and students have initiated numerous research projects in an effort to support the local community and to affect humanity on a global scale.

Below is a summary of known COVID-19 related projects that Virginia Tech researchers are leading.

Contact Lindsey Haugh, Director of Marketing and Communications for the Office of Research and Innovation, to provide information about ongoing COVID-related research projects at Virginia Tech not listed. 

Data Science and Modeling

data science and modeling

Modeling and computer simulations of epidemic outbreaks, social distancing measures, disease resurgence, and effective non-pharmaceutical control strategies

  • Uwe C. Täuber
    Professor of Physics and Faculty of Health Sciences, College of Science
    Director, Center for Soft Matter and Biological Physics
  • Lauren M. Childs
    Assistant Professor of Mathematics, College of Science
  • Matthias Chung
    Associate Professor of Mathematics, College of Science
    Computational Modeling and Data Analytics Program, Academy of Integrated Science
  • Omar Saucedo
    Assistant Professor of Mathematics, College of Science 

After an epidemic outbreak has been contained through non-pharmaceutical interventions, a safe protocol is required for easing social distancing restrictions in order to prevent a disastrous resurgence of the infection. We perform computer simulations of various stochastic susceptible-infectious-recovered epidemic models on different network architectures wherein contact and mobility constraints are implemented. The goal is to design local, targeted, and effective control mechanisms that reduce spread of the infection while minimizing the need for social distancing measures.

Open source research for modeling virus

The Molecular Sciences Software Institute has launched an open-source website, the COVID-19 Molecular Structure and Therapeutics Hub, that will allow biomolecular scientists from around the world to share computer-aided drug-testing simulations targeting the protein at the center of COVID-19.

Repurposing existing drugs for COVID-19

  • T. M. Murali
    Professor of Computer Science, College of Engineering
    Associate Program Director, Computational Tissue Engineering Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program
  • Padma Rajagopalan
    The Robert E. Hord, Jr. Professor of Chemical Engineering, College of Engineering
    Director, Computational Tissue Engineering Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program
  • Simon Kasif
    Professor of Biomedical Engineering
    Boston University
  • Marc Crovella
    Professor of Computer Science
    Boston University
  • Judith Klein-Seetharaman
    Associate Professor of Chemistry
    Colorado School of Mines
  • Meghana Kshirsagar
    Researcher, AI for Good Lab
    Microsoft Research

The COVID-19 pandemic has galvanized scientists to develop cures for the disease. Since a virus must necessarily co-opt host cellular processes in order to replicate, a promising approach is to develop or repurpose drugs that target human proteins required by the virus. The multi-institution team is developing a computational, network-based, drug repositioning strategy to prioritize existing, approved drugs as anti-COVID-19 agents. Even in the early stages of this research, the team has independently identified several drugs that are in clinical trials for COVID-19.

Respiratory illness surveillance platform for epidemiological monitoring and forecasting

  • Shane Ross
    Professor of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering, College of Engineering
  • W. Nathan Alexander
    Assistant Professor of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Andre A. Muelenaer
    Professor of Pediatrics, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine

A scalable, highly deployable, cost-effective approach for monitoring respiratory illness could directly be used for public health epidemic forecasting of respiratory diseases, such as COVID-19, flu, or the next pandemic.

This project will focus on a valuable new source of data for predicting epidemiological trends in real time: the coughing rate. Using acoustic sensors, along with automatic cough detection, researchers will capture coughing sounds from public spaces, clinical examination rooms, or institutions such as schools, nursing homes, or prisons, to determine the coughing rate over time at various locations. A coughing rate signal, which depends on geo-spatial location and time, would be an important data stream for a state-wide or national center for disease detection and forecasting.

While cough is a common symptom of several non-COVID-19 related medical conditions, new data-driven methods will be used to classify coughs based on their most probable associated conditions, providing a rich multidimensional coughing rate signal across time and geography.

Tuberculosis vaccine may limit COVID-19 deaths

  • Luis Escobar
    Assistant Professor of Disease Ecology, College of Natural Resources and Environment
  • Alvaro Molina-Cruz
    National Institutes of Health Diseases
  • Carolina Barillas-Mury
    National Institutes of Health

Based on coronavirus mortality data collected from around the world and adjusted for several variables, the researchers found a link between countries with higher rates of vaccinations of Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG), a tuberculosis vaccine routinely given to children in countries with high incidence of tuberculosis infection, and lower mortality rates from COVID-19. Escobar stresses that the team’s findings are preliminary, and that further research is needed to test their results and determine next steps.

Epidemiology and Infectious Disease

COVID-19

A microfluidic platform for rapid and precise measurement of COVID-19 antibodies

  • Chang Lu
    Fred W. Bull Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering
  • Rong Tong
    Assistant Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering

Antibodies are proteins that help fight off infections and usually provide protection against re-infection. Many current antibody testing of COVID-19 are not highly-specific or sensitive. The researchers will work on the development of a microfluidic based platform to rapidly detect Covid-19 antibodies. The goal is to develop a quick, precise and low-cost antibody test that will be useful for serology surveillance and vaccine development.

Establishment of a Reverse Genetics System for Investigating the Replication, Host Range, Antiviral Screening, and Live Attenuated Vaccine Application for the COVID-19 Virus, SARS-CoV-2

  • Xiaofeng Wang
    Associate Professor of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • Jonathan Auguste
    Assistant Professor of Entomology,  College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • Kylene Kehn-Hall
    Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology student
  • James Weger-Lucarelli
    Research Assistant Professor of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine; Fralin Life Sciences Institute

SARS-CoV-2 is the virus responsible for the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Understanding the mechanisms underlying its high replication efficiency inside human cells and rapid transmission among humans will provide insights into viral transmissibility and pathogenesis, and may identify targets for virus control. These goals will be accelerated with an easy and efficient reverse genetics system that allows manipulations of the viral RNA genome.

Taking advantage of the yeast-based cloning platform, this project will make various SARS-CoV-2 cDNAs by assembling the 30-kb-long viral cDNAs in a single transformation, homologous recombination event. With these cDNA clones and reporter viruses, the team will use high-throughput methods to study therapeutic interventions, identify mouse-adapted viruses for animal studies and attenuated viruses for vaccine development, as well as investigate virus-host interactions and viral replication mechanisms.

Establishment of a SARS-CoV-2 reverse genetics system to facilitate COVID-19 research

  • James Weger-Lucarelli
    Research Assistant Professor of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine; Fralin Life Sciences Institute
  • Nisha Duggal
    Assistant Professor of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine; Fralin Life Sciences Institute

SARS-CoV-2 is currently causing a worldwide pandemic and has caused over one million human infections.

Vaccines and antivirals are urgently needed to combat this threat, and the viral genetics that resulted in this outbreak must be identified. A reverse genetics system for SARS-CoV-2 must be established to perform this work. Furthermore, a mouse model that recapitulates human disease and is readily available to researchers is imperative for in vivo studies of vaccine efficacy, antiviral therapeutics, and viral pathogenesis.

To address these needs, the research team will establish a reverse genetics system for SARS-CoV-2 that can serve as the basis for vaccine design and studying viral mutations associated with COVID-19 severity and viral transmission.

Neurological Impacts of SARS-CoV-2

  • Andrea Bertke
    Associate Professor, Infectious Diseases, Population Health Sciences, Virginia Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine 
  • James Weger-Lucarelli
    Research Assistant Professor of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine; Fralin Life Sciences Institute
  • Jonathan Auguste
    Assistant Professor, Arbovirology/Molecular Biology, Entomology, College of Science

Severe headaches and cognitive impairment, such as memory lapses or sleep disorders, are commonly reported among individuals with mild to moderate symptomatic infections resulting from SARS-CoV-2.

In those with severe illness, other neurologic manifestations have been reported, including acute cerebrovascular events, loss of sensation or tingling in extremities, impaired consciousness, and sudden stroke. Thus, COVID-19 has a substantial impact on the peripheral and central nervous system. One unusual symptom reported by patients testing positive for SARS-Co-V-2 is a loss of the sense of smell, or anosmia. Anosmia has been suggested as a first diagnostic indicator for acquisition of the virus.

In this project, the researchers will assess the spread pathway of SARS-CoV-2 infection through the neurons of the olfactory system and into the brain. A better understanding of the way the infection spreads, as well as the neurological damage done by the virus, may highlight treatment options and recovery prospects of COVID-related neurological disorders, as well as inform implications for using the unusual symptom of anosmia as a diagnostic indicator.

These studies address clinical management of the disease by determining the neurological impacts of the virus, the impact of the pandemic and its aftermath on the well-being of people, and may contribute to the development of approaches to quantify and/or mitigate the unanticipated consequences of COVID-19 on society. Results will also serve as preliminary data for submission of collaborative proposals to external funding opportunities to further investigate neurological impacts of SARS-CoV-2 and to develop ways to manage or mitigate these impacts.

Rapid development of poly-nano neutralizing antibodies against SARS-COV-2 for topical lung and intravenous delivery using gnotobiotic alpaca

  • Lijuan Yuan
    Professor, Virology and Immunology, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology
  • Jonathan Auguste
    Assistant Professor of Entomology, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Among numerous clinical trials of investigational therapeutics for COVID-19, the most encouraging strategy is plasma therapy, because convalescent plasma from recovered patients contains broadly reactive neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. However, there are limitations in the supply of convalescent plasma and risks associated with transfer of blood substances.

To overcome the limitations and avoid the risks, this project will focus on generating anti-SARS-CoV-2 polynanobodies using germ-free gnotobiotic (Gn) alpaca. The systemic immune system of Gn alpaca does not encounter any foreign antigens; thus, immunizations with SARS-CoV-2 will allow the generation of a nanobody pool entirely against SARS-CoV-2 antigens. The nanobodies produced in a yeast expression system will be use in two ways: to generate SARS-CoV-2 specific polynanobody formulations that can be delivered to the nasal cavity, nasopharynx, and lung via a self-administered nasal spray or nebulizer; and to generate a humanized multi-specific neutralizing IgG1 intravenous biologic drug for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.

The concepts and technologies developed in this project will allow the development of antibody therapeutic products against other agents, such as other respiratory viruses and zootoxins. It will enable a rapid response to future pandemics and epidemics of human infectious diseases.

Human Factors

human factors

Analysis of alcohol and reckless driving related crashes as a result of the "stay at home" directive

  • Kathleen Hancock
    Associate Professor in the Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Rauful Islam
    Civil and Environmental Engineering doctoral student
  • Ian McManus
    Civil and Environmental Engineering undergraduate student

As a result of the "stay at home" directive by Gov. Northam, the number of vehicle crashes has reduced. Virginia Tech researchers have partnered with Virginia DMV to understand this reduction and to identify driver and pedestrian behaviors and their consequences as a result of the pandemic. Preliminary findings indicate that although the number of crashes has reduced, a greater percentage of these crashes involve alcohol. Another disturbing consequence of reduced traffic on the roads is the apparent increase in speeds and reckless driving of some drivers. The team will evaluate whether and how this translates to increased numbers of speed-related crashes and crash severity.

Best Practices to Support K-12 STEM Remote Learning in Underserved Communities

  • Leigh-Anne Krometis
    Associate Professor of Biological Systems Engineering, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • Erika Bonnett
    4-H Specialist, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • Luke Juran
    Associate Professor of Geography, College of Natural Resources and Environment
  • Erin Ling
    Water Quality Extension Associate, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • Madeline Schreiber
    Professor and Associate Department Head of Geosciences, College of Science
  • Durelle Scott
    Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Engineering, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Even under typical conditions, it is common for some students to lose skills achieved in the school year during the summer, particularly if they do not have access to reliable internet connectivity and/or lack access to educational summer programs. This limited educational access during the summer may magnify urban/rural, racial, socio-economic, and other disparities in education for the students in these underserved communities. When Virginia’s K-12 schools shifted from in-classroom to remote learning in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it essentially added an additional three-month “summer” of limited educational access to these students.

To address this problem, this team of researchers is developing high-quality STEM-based educational activities to minimize the achievement gap for Virginia students upon their return to in-class instruction. This effort, though initially motivated by the pandemic, is seen as an opportunity to build an interdisciplinary working group that can continue to develop summer programming and supplementary materials during the regular academic year to help close the achievement gap for underserved Virginia students.

Changes in Long-Term Care Services and Supports for Persons with Dementia During a Pandemic

  • Tina Savla
    Professor of Human Development and Family Studies, Center for Gerontology, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences
  • Brandy McCann
    Postdoctoral Research Associate, Center for Gerontology
  • Shyam Ranganathan
    Assistant Professor of Statistics, College of Science
  • Aubrey L. Knight
    Professor of Family and Community Medicine, Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute

Community Partners

  • Michael Wampler
    Executive Director of Mountain Empire Older Citizens, Inc.
  • Mike Williams
    Founder, and CEO, English Meadows senior living communities

While the stay-at-home order has slowed the spread of COVID-19, one result is a reduction in availability of services for persons with dementia, particularly for those living in rural communities. Families who previously relied on home care workers and adult care centers for assistance in caring for their relatives now find themselves providing continuous care with minimal opportunity for respite. The result can be greater feelings of loneliness and isolation for both caregivers and care recipients.

This project will use mixed methods data (structured telephone survey items and open-ended questions), combined with geographic and county-level data on availability of health care services and the spread of the coronavirus, to look at the immediate and long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on these families. Study findings will provide valuable and highly relevant information for planning and delivering targeted services and programs in underserved rural areas, particularly during times of extreme distress.

Connecting Virginia Learning Communities: New eXtended Reality based Library Tools

  • Denis Gracanin
    Associate Professor of Computer Science, College of Engineering, Virginia Tech
  • Jim Egenrieder
    Research Faculty and Director of Thinkabit Lab. Virginia Tech National Capital Region
  • Deborah Cash
    Coordinator of Northern Virginia Resource Center, University Libraries, Virginia Tech

When the challenges of COVID-19 restrictions are removed, group activities in schools and workplaces will resume, but will have to adapt to the new reality where COVID-19 and similar pandemics can occur. New technologies, especially eXtended Reality (XR), are blurring the lines between the real and virtual worlds. XR-based products and solutions could transform all aspects of education and training, including experiential learning, hands-on demonstration, virtual lab activities, and assessment. With support from the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology’s rapid response grant, this team is developing an IoT-enabled XR infrastructure and tools to support library activities while enhancing university connections to learning communities throughout the Commonwealth, focusing on teacher/educator professional development and adoption of new technologies to be used in STEM education.

Exploring Online Ensemble Rehearsal and Performance Infrastructure in the Age of Social Distancing

  • Ariana Wyatt
    Associate Professor of Voice, School of Performing Arts, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, Virginia Tech
  • Annie Stevens
    Assistant Professor of Percussion, School of Performing Arts, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, Virginia Tech
  • Jason Crafton
    Associate Professor of Trumpet and Jazz Ensemble, School of Performing Arts, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, Virginia Tech
  • Ico Bukvic
    Associate Professor of Composition and Multimedia, School of Performing Arts, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, Virginia Tech
  • Derek Shapiro
    Assistant Professor and Director of Bands, School of Performing Arts, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, Virginia Tech
  • Mathias Elmer
    Assistant Professor, School of Performing Arts, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, Virginia Tech
  • Brian Thorsett
    Assistant Professor of Voice, School of Performing Arts, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, Virginia Tech
  • Dwight Bigler
    Associate Professor and Director of Choral Activities, School of Performing Arts, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, Virginia Tech
  • Tanner Upthegrove
    Media Engineer; Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology; Virginia Tech
  • Brandon Hale
    Technical Assistant; Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology; Virginia Tech

Inspired by the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic and its profound impact on the existing instruction practices within Virginia Tech’s music program, this project will empirically explore and identify best practices for virtual ensemble rehearsal and performance to support the teaching of music ensembles virtually in the fall 2020.  There ae significant challenges in providing a safe environment for rehearsing a large group of people.  Since singing and using one’s breath to play a wind instrument are high-risk activities, there is no safe way to rehearse orchestra, choir, or wind ensemble in person. There is an urgent need to develop an online alternative that could help the program be more resilient when faced with future adverse events requiring similar social distancing measures.

Supported in party by an Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology rapid response grant, this project will explore the best technologies and practices for asynchronous ensemble rehearsals and performances, the feasibility of synchronous ensemble rehearsals and performances by using either existing or developing entirely new technologies, and the creation of new works intended to be performed via a newly identified online platform, including potentially both synchronous, as well as hybrid content (a combination of synchronous and asynchronous).

Fluid Echoes 

  • Zach Duer
    Assistant Professor of Creative Technologies, School of Visual Arts, College of Architecture of Urban Studies, Virginia Tech
  • Scotty Hardwig
    Assistant Professor of Movement, Performance and Integrated Media; School of Performing Arts; College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences; Virginia Tech
  • Myounghoon "Philart" Jeon
    Associate Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering, College of Engineering, Virginia Tech

Fluid Echoes is a research and performance project investigating how artificial intelligence can learn to interpret dance through human joints, gestures, and movement qualities.  This new technology will be immediately used to allow dancers to generate and perform choreography remotely as necessitated by the COVID-19 quarantine.  Researchers collaborating from their homes from visual arts, performing arts, and engineering disciplines at Virginia Tech are working in partnership with the San Francisco-based dance company LEVYdance to build this new platform, supported by the Virginia Tech Institute for Creativity Arts and Technology COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant and LEVYdance.

Watch the video

Girls Launch! Kindergarten Science Outreach Continuation and Expansion

  • Carolyn J. Kroehler
    Associate Director, Center for Communicating Science;
    Instructor, Graduate School, Virginia Tech
  • Vanessa Diaz
    Research Assistant Professor of Psychology, College of Science, Virginia Tech
  • Patricia Raun
    Professor of Performance and Voice, School of Performing Arts, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, Virginia Tech;
    Director, Center for Communicating Science, Virginia Tech

Community Partners

  • Christina Martin
    STEM Coordinator, Giles County Public Schools
  • Lori Evans
    Kindergarten teacher, Eastern Elementary/Middle School, Giles County

How do kindergarteners know girls can be scientists? Through “Girls Launch!,” they meet women researchers and have the opportunity to explore science with them. This kindergarten science visits program was started in 2017 by a graduate student working with the Center for Communicating Science and the Department of Psychology’s iLEAP Lab, but was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. With funding from an Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology’s rapid response grant, “Girls Launch! Kindergarten Science Outreach Continuation and Expansion” supports 10 female graduate students as they create short, kindergarten-friendly videos related to their research. Having a library of videos will extend the reach of the program to other schools and help “Girls Launch!” continue when visitors can’t connect with children in person.

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Impact of COVID-19 in adolescents with and without ADHD

  • Rosanna Breaux
    Assistant Professor of Psychology, College of Science
  • Stephen Becker
    Associate Professor of Behavioral Medicine and Clinical Psychology,
    Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center
  • Joshua Langberg
    Professor of Psychology
    Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Melissa Dvorsky
    Postdoctoral scholar, School of Medicine
    University of California, San Francisco
  • Emma Scibberras
    Associate Professor, School of Psychology
    Deakin University

At best, the COVID-19 crisis is confusing, disruptive, and inconvenient. For many the situation poses not only the physical risk of the COVID-19 virus itself, but also the mental health, social, behavioral, and economic risks that accompany the crisis and its associated consequences. The experience and its consequences are likely to be particularly magnified and salient in youth with pre-existing mental health and neurodevelopmental risk, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The primary goal of the proposed study is to leverage an already-recruited longitudinal sample of 260 adolescents with and without ADHD who reside in Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky to examine COVID-19-related adjustment. Specifically, this study seeks to identify predictors of COVID-19-related coping and resilience among adolescents and their families, examine the immediate and short-term impact of the COVID-19 crisis for adolescent adjustment; and explore whether adjustment, coping, and predictors differ for adolescents with and without ADHD.

Privacy in the age of pandemics

  • France Bélanger
    R. B. Pamplin Professor and the Tom and Daisy Byrd Senior Faculty FellowPamplin College of Business
  • Katherine Allen
    Professor of Human Development and Family Science, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences
  • Robert E. Crossler
    Associate Professor and Chair Management
    Information Systems, and Entrepreneurship Department,
    Washington State University

Virginia Tech researchers are analyzing the long-term implications, both positive and negative, of contact tracing, with a particular emphasis on information privacy. The team is working on three sub-projects involving: the future of information privacy to probe for how COVID-19 is changing this future, a study of the use of Smart Home Speakers (SHS; i.e. Amazon Echo, Google Home, etc.) in family environments, focusing on the effects of the Stay at Home executive order, and lastly, developing a large-scale study to further understand citizens’ views of contact tracing and its long-term effects.

Risk and behavior in response to digital information during the COVID-19 crisis

  • Shalini Misra
    Associate Professor of Urban Affairs and Planning, College of Architecture and Urban Studies
  • Kris Wernstedt
    Professor of Urban Affairs and Planning, College of Architecture and Urban Studies

In this project funded by an NSF RAPID grant, the researchers are investigating how risk perceptions, risk preferences, stated behavior, and actual behavior change in response to digital information during the COVID-19 crisis, in a high-stress context of spatial distancing and over a prolonged period.

Risk and protective factors for coping during the COVID-19 Crisis

  • Rosanna Breaux
    Assistant Professor of Psychology, College of Science
  • Thomas Ollendick
    University Distinguished Professor, Department of Psychology, College of Science

This study seeks to follow-up families who previously completed a comprehensive child assessment through the Child Study Center at Virginia Tech. Pre-COVID-19 data will enable us to assess risk and protective factors for coping during the COVID-19 crisis. The sample is uniquely suited to assess such factors among a large, representative sample, as families represent a range of socioeconomic backgrounds and a range of geographic locations (urban, suburban, exurban, rural), with a large portion of rural, Appalachian families. Examination of risk and protective factors among an already at-risk sample (i.e., families with children who have mental health and/or academic difficulties) will ensure greater variability in these factors, allowing for more robust analyses and a larger impact on families who may be most affected by the pandemic.

Supporting Remote Design Critique of Physical Objects through Collaborative Augmented Reality

  • Doug Bowman
    Director of the Center for Human-Computer Interaction and Professor of Computer Science, College of Engineering, Virginia Tech
  • David Hicks
    Professor of Education, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, Virginia Tech
  • Wallace Lages
    Assistant Professor of Creative Technologies, School of Visual Arts, College of Architecture of Urban Studies, Virginia Tech
  • Sang Won Lee
    Assistant Professor of Computer Science, College of Engineering, Virginia Tech
  • Akshay Sharma
  • Associated Professor of Industrial Design, College of Architecture and Urban Studies, Virginia Tech

Design critique sessions among students and faculty are a critical part of the learning process for Industrial Design students. Often, these rich sessions focus on viewing and discussion of physical artifacts (mockups or prototypes) created by the students to represent their designs. However, in times of remote learning, available tools (such as videoconferencing) are insufficient for design critique sessions because it is difficult for participants to see and understand the artifact’s size and 3D shape, as well as communicate about particular features or regions on the artifact. With support from an Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology’s rapid response grant,  this project aims to address the problem by developing a remote collaboration tool based on handheld augmented reality (AR). Students can scan their artifact and share the resulting 3D model with others, and all participants can then view the 3D model simultaneously in their own physical context, view from independent points of view while maintaining awareness of others’ viewpoints, and point to features on the model to aid communication. The system uses common smartphones for both object scanning and AR viewing. This work could potentially be used for education in other design disciplines and for remote collaboration around physical artifacts in any domain.

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Teleworking in a highly chaotic home: Implications for the transition back to work and school

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted all areas of life, particularly how we work and educate our children. The experience of teleworking is particularly stressful for parents of school-age children, who are balancing telework with parenting and educating their children. The primary goal of the proposed study is to leverage an already-recruited longitudinal sample of working parents of school-age children with mental health and academic problems, to examine the impact of COVID-19 on employee well-being and job performance while teleworking and in the transition back to work as usual. Given the merger of home and professional lives inherent in teleworking, the COVID-19 crisis is an opportune time to examine individual, child, and situational predictors of occupational functioning and well-being in a vastly understudied population of working parents.

 

The Virtual Sculpture Garden

  • Trevor Finney
    Creative Services Coordinator, University Libraries, Virginia Tech
  • Jonathan Bradley
    Head of Studios and Innovative Technologies and Manager of the Virtual Environments Studio, University Libraries, Virginia Tech
  • Renee Alarid
    Associate Director of Creative Services, Moss Arts Center, Virginia Tech
  • Alice Rogers
    Manager of Media Design Studios, University Libraries at Virginia Tech

The Virtual Sculpture Garden will keep people connected through the arts in a time of physical distancing by exhibiting 3D artwork from the Virginia Tech and the surrounding communities. This virtual reality experience will feature a dynamically expanding environment that will grow as the art collection does, offering an ongoing and collaborative point of connection.  Created by students and faculty in the University Libraries and Moss Arts Center, and made possible in part by a grant from Virginia Tech’s Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology, the Virtual Sculpture Garden will be accessible to the public through a web browser and virtual reality headset.

Watch the video

Infection Control

Infection Control

Assessment and Mitigation of COVID-19 Airborne Exposure Risk in Indoor Environments with Automated Building Systems

  • Farrokh Jazizadeh
    Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering, Virginia Tech
  • Linsey Marr
    Charles P. Lunsford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering, Virginia Tech
  • Arsalan Heydarian
    Assistant Professor, Department of Systems and Environment Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
  • Nicola Bezzo
    Assistant Professor, Departments of Systems and Environment Engineering and Electrical and Computer Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia

Physical distancing is a critical step in reducing the probability of airborne exposures and physical transmissions during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the trade-off between reducing the exposure and resuming economic activities is of critical importance; therefore, it is important to understand how economic activities could be resumed while reducing the risk of exposure. An important factor in this direction is to understand the role of buildings and building systems in affecting the risk of exposure.

There have been questions on how building systems (specifically HVAC systems) could potentially increase the risk of exposure. In this project, researchers are seeking to understand the ways that smart building systems could be leveraged to assess exposure risk and provide mitigating strategies.

Coatings to inactivate the SARS-CoV-2 virus

  • William Ducker
    Professor of Chemical Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Saeed Behzadinasab
    Chemical engineering Ph.D. student, College of Engineering
  • Mohsen Hosseini
    Chemical engineering Ph.D. student, College of Engineering
  • Xu Feng
    Scientist Manager, Surface Analysis Laboratory, College of Science
  • Leo Poon
    Professor of Medicine, University of Hong Kong

The SARS-CoV-2 virus is viable on a solid for up to one week, which means that there is a danger of obtaining an infection from an inanimate object. Virginia Tech researchers are developing coatings that will inactivate the SARS-CoV-2 virus. These coatings could be applied to communal objects such as door handles and shopping carts, and are being tested for their ability to inactivate the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the laboratory of Professor Leon Poon at the University of Hong Kong.

Personal Protective Equipment

human factors; car crashes

3D printed mask evaluation

  • Linsey Marr
    Charles P. Lunsford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Chris Williams
    Professor of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering; Director, DREAMS lab

Marr is evaluating 3D-printed mask designs for evaluation of their efficacy in filtering particles, including the first FDA-approved 3D-printed mask. If the latter passes her tests, Williams' team will move to produce them en masse.

Conformal face shield design

  • Edmundo Rubio
    Chief of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Carilion Clinic
  • Liam Chapin
    Engineering undergraduate student; manager, FASER lab
  • Erik Komendera
    Professor of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering; Director, FASER lab

Rubio has devised a means of creating PPE from an ambu bag mask and HEPA virus filter that is reusable and can easily be cleaned via disinfectant wipe. However, the new design does not fit under existing face shields. The FASER lab team is working to design a new face shield that includes 3D-printed headbands and laser cut plastic film to conform around this new configuration of mask and filter.

Evaluation of alternative mask materials + sterilized N95 respirators

  • Linsey Marr
    Charles P. Lunsford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Matt Hull
    Associate Director of NanoEarth; Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program Manager, Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science

Marr is conducting ongoing experiments to test the efficacy of N95 respirators after they've gone through various sterilization techniques. Marr and her graduate students are evaluating how well the respirators retain their efficacy in filtering particles following sterilization with techniques including ethylene oxide, a method requested for testing by leadership at Carilion Clinic, and hydrogen peroxide vapor. Marr is also testing the efficacy of alternative mask materials available off the shelf, like the Hanes Beefy-T, felt, Shop-Vac bags, HVAC filters, auto rags, and microfiber cloth. Hull coordinated collection and safe distribution of materials to Marr's lab for testing.

Face shields design and production

  • Alex Leonessa
    Professor of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering; Director, Terrestrial Robotic Engineering and Controls Laboratory
  • Liam Chapin
    Engineering undergraduate student; member, Field and Space Experimental Robotics Laboratory
  • Erik Komendera
    Professor of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering

The team is organizing the mass production of face shields after rapidly prototyping 15 designs and reviewing them with staff from Carilion Clinic and Lewis Gale Hospital.

Production of sterilizable HEPA filter shells

  • Chris Williams
    Professor of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering; Director, DREAMS lab
  • Logan Sturm
    Mechanical Engineering graduate student

Due to supply concerns, local doctors are in need of reusable (sterilizable) housings for respirator circuit HEPA filters. This project team is researching 3-D printing of autoclavable materials (e.g., fused deposition modeling of ULTEM) to fabricate these requested parts. The HEPA shell design features a double ring and snap-together assembly. Once a design is finalized, this team could potentially produce up to 200 shells per week.

Rapid and Resilient Reusable Respirator Manufacturing

  • Christopher Williams
    Professor of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering; Director, DREAMS lab

To address the shortage of N95-quality respirators caused by the disruption of the global supply chain during the COVID-19 pandemic, this team is investigating a novel approach for fabricating reusable respirators by vacuuming forming them from additively manufactured tooling. 3D printed inserts for securely holding filter media and printed molds for casting flexible face seals are also employed. The process leverages advanced manufacturing processes that are scalable, rapidly reconfigurable, and resilient, allowing rapid production of sterilizable respirators. Quantitative filtration efficiency measurements and qualitative fit testing will be used to verify the effectiveness of the fabricated respirators.

Policy

Policy Covid

COVID disrupts aquaculture industry and spurs economic loss nationwide

  • Jonathan van Senten
    Assistant Professor, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics
    Extension Specialist, Virginia Seafood Agriculture and Research and Extension Center
    Affiliate faculty member, Center for Coastal Studies
  • Matthew Smith
    Extension Aquaculture Program Director
    College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, Ohio State University 
A Virginia Tech and Ohio State University collaboration, van Senten and Smith are gathering survey responses from national seafood producers at the end of each quarter in 2020 to assess the short- and long-term impacts that COVID-19 is having on the aquaculture industry. Research findings include regional information in addition to data about specific species groups, such as mollusks, catfish, trout, among others. Results are being shared with state and federal agencies to measure economic impact.

Global health agenda setting in response to COVID-19

  • Stephanie Smith
    Associate Professor of Public Policy and Administration, College of Architecture and Urban Studies

This project uses the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic to explore a model for conceptualizing and measuring the global health agenda in supranational arenas. In particular, Smith is investigating how governments receive information, set polices, allocate resources, and prioritize responses, as well as how international entities and organizations (infectious disease researchers, pharmaceutical companies, and media) influence those processes.

Testing

testing

3D printing nasal swabs

  • Marc Michel
    Associate Professor of Geosciences, College of Science
  • Carla Finkielstein
    Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, College of Science; Fralin Life Sciences Institute
  • Mike Bortner
    Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Dave Dillard
    The Adhesive and Sealant Science Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics, College of Engineering

In order to ramp up COVID-19 testing, researchers are working to fabricate nasal swabs using inverse stereolithography 3D printing. Leveraging designs from the University of South Florida, the project team is currently conducting test prints and tensile tests.

Development of new COVID-19 tests to combat backlogs, shortages in Virginia

  • Carla Finkielstein
    Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, College of Science; Fralin Life Sciences Institute
  • Michael Friedlander
    Executive Director, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC; Vice President of Health Sciences and Technology
  • Harald Sontheimer
    Professor and Commonwealth Eminent Scholar in Cancer Research at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute; Professor of Neuroscience, College of Science

Virginia Tech scientists have a developed a new COVID-19 test and secured federal and state approvals to immediately begin processing samples at on-campus labs in Blacksburg and Roanoke. Faculty research leaders and their teams will support local health departments throughout the region to provide timely analysis to identify patients suspected of having COVID-19 — a critical step in the process of slowing the pandemic in Virginia.

Higher Accuracy and Availability of COVID-19 Testing and Monitoring via Post-CT Image Boosting and Analysis

  • Wu Feng
    Professor of Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics
    Director, Center for Synergistic Environments for Experimental Computing
    Elizabeth and James E. Turner Faculty Fellow
  • Guohua Cao
    Assistant Professor of Computer Science
    Research Associate, Center for Synergistic Environments for Experimental Computing

Given the lack of an effective vaccine or drug in the short term, testing techniques with high accuracy and availability are needed to mitigate the COVID-19 outbreak through expansive testing. However, the current genetic-based test for COVID-19 involves many different materials (e.g., swabs, tubes, and chemical solutions), of which certain ones are in short supply at different times in different places across the United States. Furthermore, the test is a multi-step process that is error-prone, resulting in low accuracy (60%-70%). To address these shortcomings, with an NSF-funded grant, the researchers seek to deliver an alternative COVID-19 test that can be widely available and deliver results in minutes with high accuracy (90%-95%). The research will work to realize, deploy, and continually improve a high-performance software tool to facilitate early and accurate testing and monitoring of COVID-19 via post-image boosting and analysis of computed tomography (CT) scans, which use computer-processed combinations of many X-ray measurements to produce cross-section images of the chest (in particular, the lungs) to facilitate accurate COVID-19 diagnosis.

Treatment

20181204_FluShots_OC_0009

Upgrading BiPAP machines

  • Joseph Meadows
    Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering in the College of Engineering

  • Christopher Williams
    Professor of Mechanical Engineering in the College of Engineering; Director, DREAMS lab
  • Al Wicks
    Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Edmundo Rubio
    Chief of Pulmonology and Critical Care Medicine, Carilion Clinic; Professor of Medicine at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine

To address potential ventilator shortages, mechanical engineers at Virginia Tech have partnered with Carilion Clinic pulmonology division to upgrade bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) machines, commonly used for treating sleep apnea, for use as low-level ventilators. The engineers added a smart monitoring system that detects air flow rate, calculates volume, and triggers an alarm system to prevent overinflation and give physicians peace of mind.