Engineering May Prove the Best Defense Against Coronavirus




It is understandable that organizations like the CDC and WHO look at the coronavirus crisis from a medical standpoint. They are, after all, organizations focused on human health. But there is another way to look at it. Rather than attempting to defeat coronavirus exclusively through medical means, why not look at the problem from an engineering standpoint? Engineering may prove the best defense against coronavirus when all is said and done.

Everything we know about viruses suggests that coronavirus will never go away. Consider polio. The polio virus may have been eradicated in the U.S. decades ago, but it still exists in several places around the world. According to the CDC, there are three countries in which the transmission of polio in the wild has still not been interrupted: Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan.

We have become particularly good at controlling the polio virus. We have not succeeded in eliminating it. That brings us back to coronavirus. There are multiple strains of the coronavirus, not just the one that causes COVID-19. Expecting to fully eradicate them seems to be wishing for too much. Controlling them, on the other hand, is very doable. That is where engineering comes in.


  • Engineering and Testing


We only know about the severity of the coronavirus pandemic because of testing. But testing only gets us so far. Our testing capabilities still aren’t mature enough to help us understand how and when people catch the virus, how most people respond to it, and exactly how they pass it on. We make educated guesses, but that is all they are.

Engineers at Caltech are working to solve some of the problems with a new type of sophisticated sensor that could make home coronavirus testing as commonplace as home pregnancy tests. Best of all, their sensor allows people to self-administer with just a small amount of saliva or blood.

The sensors are based on similar sensors already in use for detecting gout, stress, and other things. The active component is made of graphene that has been etched with a laser to create tiny pores. The pores create the surface necessary to collect blood or saliva, a surface sensitive enough to detect tiny amounts of trace compounds that would signify the presence of coronavirus.

The sensors are coated with antibodies known to react with coronavirus. If the virus is present in a sample, the sensor will demonstrate as such in mere minutes.


  • Earlier Detection the Goal


Developing the sensor is a clear demonstration of approaching the coronavirus problem from an engineering standpoint. By their nature, engineers apply technology and area-specific skills to solve problems. In this case, the problem is one of detecting coronavirus as early as possible.

Drug therapies are simultaneously being developed to fight coronavirus once it is found. That makes sense given that destroying the virus is a medical challenge. But detecting the presence of coronavirus is an engineering challenge.

Rock West Solutions, a California company that specializes in engineering services in the sensor and signal processing space, says that most people do not realize how much engineering goes into solving problems like the coronavirus pandemic. Wherever you see technology in use, engineering has played a role in some way, shape, or form.

It could be that we look back on the coronavirus crisis decades from now and acknowledge that keeping it under control is largely due to engineering. It would not surprise the people at Rock West Solutions or the brilliant engineers at Caltech. Engineering is what they do, and they do it quite well. The rest of us reap the benefits of their brains and hard work.