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Researchers Are Developing Anti-Coronavirus Tech Suitable For Buildings

Early in the coronavirus pandemic, inventors and entrepreneurs devised various simple tools to help people occupy space more safely, such as a hook to open doors hands-free and a bracelet that tells users when they have touched their faces.


A few months later, researchers are coming up with more sophisticated technologies to make the built environment safer.

Scientists at the University of Houston, along with researchers at medical real estate company Medistar Corp., have designed an air filter that is able to trap the virus responsible for COVID-19 and neutralize it. The device is designed to be a "catch and kill" filter, with researchers reporting that 99.8% of the novel SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, are destroyed by a single pass through. 

The filter is described in a paper published in early July in the journal Materials Today Physics. It is made of nickel foam, which is commercially available, and heated to about 200 degrees Celsius, or 392 degrees Fahrenheit. As virus-laden air passes through, the virus catches on the surface and is killed. 

Besides being easy to obtain, nickel foam also has a number of other key properties useful for killing the coronavirus: it is porous, electrically conductive and flexible. A bonus offered by the filter, according to its developers, is that it kills anthrax spores as well. 

“This filter could be useful in airports and in airplanes, in office buildings, schools and cruise ships to stop the spread of COVID-19,” MD Anderson Chair Professor of Physics at UH Zhifeng Ren said in an article about the filter published by the University of Houston.

Retailer Showfields recently rolled out a product less based on hard science and more on consumer psychology, though it does involve a new app.

Consumer psychology is an important consideration in the reopening of retail space, because Americans are still skittish about venturing into public. A recent survey by workplace safety specialist SafetyCulture and YouGov found that 71% of respondents would not feel "very comfortable" shopping in a physical store in the next three months.

Showfields, known for its experiential retail, reopened its flagship store in New York City recently, and also launched an app called Magic Wand, which will provide in-store customers information about a product, including its price, and then act as a digital shopping cart. At no point during the visit does a customer need to interact with a store employee, and yet he or she will have an interactive experience.

"We want to integrate digital into the experience, and I think that will be here to stay,” Showfields CEO Tal Zvi Nathanel told Fast Company.