PROJECTS: Physicists against coronavirus

Researchers from the Institute of Physics, Belgrade are trying to contribute to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Although physics and related fields essentially cannot help in the treatment of patients, certain research may be useful in infection containment. Accordingly, a group of researchers gathered around an idea to use ionization as a means of destroying virus in indoor settings and launched a project Continuous inactivation and removal of SARS-CoV-2 in indoor air by ionization.

Coronavirus spreads through the air, via droplets and aerosols, which is the main reason to avoid large crowds, keep distance and wear masks. ’Our project’s approach is that via intensive air ionization, which is not harmful to people, virus inactivation and its electrostatic removal from the breathing zone is carried out’, says the project leader, Dr Predrag Kolarž of the Institute of Physics, emphasizing that it could lead to alleviation and cancellation of various measures related to closed areas, but also make transport safer.

The project of application of ionization technology for virus destruction has also been approved in a recent Programme of the Science Fund of the Republic of Serbia.  Specifically, in order to direct numerous similar ideas in our scientific community towards coronavirus spread containment, the Science Fund opened a Special Research Program on COVID-19 which, among others, endorsed the project of the Institute of Physics. The partner on this project is the School of Medicine of the University of Belgrade, with the Institute of Virology, Vaccines and Sera ’Torlak’ and Clinical Centre of Serbia participating in its realization.

The project leader is Dr Predrag Kolarž from the Institute of Physics, Belgrade with other team members from this institution also being Dr Mira Aničić Urošević, Dr Saša Ćirković, Dr Anđelija Ilić, dr Jasna Ilić Đurović and Dr Nebojša Romčević. In the words of Dr Kolarž, the researchers from the Institute will be in charge of building an experimental chamber as well as achieving and controlling physical parameters, reaching desired ion concentration and simulation, i.e. ionization modelling.

Within this project, the effectiveness of inactivation and removal of the virus will be determined in special chambers, and the experiment will be carried out on several different viruses. It is planned that all data collected through the experiment will be used as parameters in computer simulations of ionization of air in various areas such as schools, hospitals, theatres and buses.

As Dr Kolarž explains, earlier studies have showcased that ions in the air can inactivate certain types of viruses. ‘In addition to inactivation, ionization can lead to charging and particle aggregation which brings about their physical deposition in the surrounding non-conductive surfaces as well as deposition via gravitation’, states Dr Kolarž, adding that the results of this project would be a set of parameters of air ionization which reduces the transfer of virus among people in an enclosed area more efficiently.

The Special Research Program on COVID-19, as stated on the official website of the Science Fund, ‘aims to support projects that will contribute to the efficient scientific response to the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and enable better preparedness and the timely reaction of the whole society to this pandemic’. Within the programme, 14 projects led by researchers from Belgrade, Novi Sad and Kragujevac have received funding.

Ilustration: Pixabay