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Kirtland lab tests microwaves to slow virus

(Air Force Research Laboratory Illustration) Researchers at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base are involved in testing to determine whether microwaves can slow the spread of COVID-19.

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Can microwaves slow the spread of COVID-19 through the air and reduce its ability to infect people?

A group of scientists with the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base and other military installations is trying to answer that very question.

And if that is the case, the information could lead to the development of a system that could be used in the decontamination of hospitals, airplane cabins and other facilities, according to Brad Hoff, project manager for the Viral Inactivation by Directed Energy Radiation project, which began March 20.

He said microwaves have the potential for rapid decontamination “not currently addressed by ultraviolet light or chemical cleaning for highly cluttered areas” while operating at levels safe for human occupancy.

Hoff said the testing will occur in two phases over six months. The researchers intend to make the results public after a peer review.

During testing, microwaves will be fully contained in a waveguide, a hollow metal pipe used to carry radio waves. An aerosol containing viruses will flow down a sealed dielectric tube within the microwave waveguide.

“The dielectric tube is transparent to the microwave energy traveling within the waveguide, enabling the aerosol droplets and viral particles within these droplets to interact directly with the microwave pulses,” Hoff said. “By varying the microwave waveform properties (pulse length, frequency and power) we will be able to test for specific vulnerabilities, which enable inactivation of the target virus.”

Because researchers will be testing against a live virus, the experiments will be performed at Lovelace Biomedical Research Institute. Hoff said LBRI has experience “in safe handling of these types of pathogens, within multiple layers of containment.”

“LBRI personnel will be performing all functions requiring handling of biological pathogens, and AFRL personnel will be providing and operating microwave source technology to produce the microwave waveforms required for the experiments,” he said.

Testing is also being done in collaboration with a team of researchers at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. Researchers from Arlington, Virginia, are also involved with the project.

The VIDER project is based on published results of viral inactivation by microwaves in bulk fluids, Hoff said.

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