ST. GEORGE — Two Dixie State University employees have invented a better “mousetrap” with the goal of killing bacteria and viruses found is security bins used for carry-on items taken aboard airliners.
Wayne Provost, DSU’s director of Innovation, Guidance & Solutions, and Professor William Christensen’s design uses high-intensity pulsed ultraviolet light that will clean the empty bins preventing cross-contamination from the belongings of one airline passenger to another.
When empty, the bins are treated by the patent-pending system that will kill harmful bacteria and viruses such as the coronavirus.
While there is little a traveler can do to reduce their health risk from these bins, the inventors who have formed a St. George-based company, Steribin, LLC., believe they have a solution.
A local investor in Steribin and CEO of the company, Jon Cole, said this device has the potential to drastically reduce the spread of bacteria and viruses in airports around the world.
“We have done a proof in concept and our own laboratory testing with Dixie State University,” Cole said. “When we tested bins, within a matter of seconds we were able to kill all of the bacteria found on the bins.”
The system will sit in the security line, and after airline passengers take their items out of the bin, it will pass through and disinfect empty bins for nearly immediate reuse.
About a year ago, the media began reporting on germs found in airport security bins such as E-coli, streptococcus and the common flu virus. It is estimated that about 1-in-5 people flying on an airplane will get sick.
“This is something that has really been brought to people’s attention that you can get sick,” Cole said. “You have to put your things in these bins. You have to touch them, which increases the chance of spreading harmful bacteria and viruses.”
The system still under development, and the prototype is about two weeks away from completion.
“We’ve started making introductions with government regulatory bodies such as the Transportation Security Administration,” Cole said. “We have kind of a long road ahead, but we are starting to get a lot of traction as people here about what we are doing.”
While the timing has coincided with the outbreak of the coronavirus, that was not the intention behind the design. The device has been one year in product development, long before COVID-19 became a household word.
Although the Coronavirus is the newest viral threat, health care officials say there have been others in the past.
This speaks to the larger issue, Cole said, with outbreaks of Asian Flu, Zika, Ebola, SARS, MERS and the Hantavirus, some of the most deadly viruses in the past few decades.
“We see this as system as a great opportunity to help the general public, reduce the spread of germs,” he said. “We see this as a global need and a really new venture.”
It’s been a couple of months since the coronavirus made its first public appearance in Wuhan, China. Since then, the virus has spread to humans, hopped international borders is now found in 80 countries, infecting more than 80,000 people and killing more than 2,800 worldwide.
The U.S. death toll climbed to 11 with deaths in Washington and California in recent days.
The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists 129 confirmed and presumed cases in the United States.
“Think about it,” Cole said. “Things that you step in, or what other people step, contaminate airport bins when you put your shoes in them. Everything else like baby bottles and other things can spread germs. It gives me the heebie-jeebies.”
Although initially designed for security lines, the device can be scaled up to treat luggage trollies that load into the belly of the airplane.
While health officials say it’s easier to treat viruses than bacterial infections because of their small size, the Steribin system works differently.
“This affects anything that is DNA based,” Cole said. “The high-intensity light is so powerful that within a few seconds is able to kill anything that is a growing microorganism. It kills at the DNA strand.”
Although ultraviolet light has been used to sanitize things such as water, which can take time on a municipal level, the use of the pulse system employs several rapid second exposures that speed up the time to treat items.
While the device is shealed, there are no environmental hazards, Cole said.
“Even in a time when people are panicking over the coronavirus, there will always be germs in airport security bins that will make people sick, and that’s what we are trying to prevent,” he said.
Steribin’s prototype has been possible through the company’s relationship with the Atwood Innovation Plaza.
In addition to a Makerspace, Atwood Innovation Plaza is home to the Business Resource Center, which supports the creation and growth of local companies.
Through business counseling and support, residents can take an idea or prototype and launch an LLC, secure a patent or trademark, pitch for funding, write a business plan, create a marketing strategy and scale a business.
The Business Resource Center and Makerspace produce a one-stop-shop for local innovators.
Steribin will donate a portion of its profits to Dixie State University’s Innovation Foundation to help fuel additional innovation and growth in the St. George area.
“The beauty of Atwood Plaza, there are the resources there for testing, the Makerspce studio and community outreach,” Cole said. “It’s absolutely fantastic to be there.”
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