Invention stops germs spreading on planes

15th Jan 2016
Written by: Dave Owen

17-year-old changes how air is circulated in cabin to stop germs

People are scared of flying for many reasons, and one of them is the threat of getting ill. You’re crammed into economy class with hundreds of other travellers from all over the world, with shared air being circulated over and over again through the cabin. Nasty germs bloody love it.

Thankfully, a 17-year-old Canadian student has invented a system that could put an end to the threat.

Raymond Wang recently gave a TED talk in which he demonstrated computer simulations of how bacteria travel around aircraft cabins. These were based on known cases of germs spreading between passengers, including one instance where 17 people were infected with bird flu by a single passenger.

Wang found that, at present, while some air is filtered out, the chances of catching something are still increased by stale air being circulated back into the centre of the cabin.

“When we sneeze, the air gets swirled round multiple times before it has a chance to go out through the filter,” he said.

His solution is a small fan-like device called the Global Inlet Director. The device will direct air into smaller spaces before it reaches the filters to be cleaned, meaning germs will be redirected away from other passengers.

Here’s a simulation of what happens in a traditional cabin when a passenger sneezes:

And here’s a simulation of how Wang’s invention would improve the situation:

“With this, we’re able to reduce pathogen transmission by about 55 times, and increase fresh-air inhalation by about 190 per cent,” said Wang.

Not only would the device prevent passengers from picking up annoying colds; it could also play a vital role in preventing global epidemics. It would even be relatively cheap and easy to install on aircraft.

Here’s to a future where passengers can breathe easy on every flight.


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