Lonely Planet Writer

Boy (17) invents device to stop germs spreading around planes

A young Canadian student, still in his teens, has come up with a new understanding of how germs travel on planes… and more importantly he says he knows what can be done to stop them.

Recirculated air can lead to germs being transmitted from one passenger to the next but Raymond Chang, a 17-year-old inventor believes his device can dramatically reduce incidences of germ transfer
Recirculated air can lead to germs being transmitted from one passenger to the next but Raymond Wang, a 17-year-old inventor believes his device can dramatically reduce incidences of germ transfer Image by Iwan Gabovitch / CC BY 2.0

At a recent TED Talk presentation, 17-year-old Raymond Wang explained why he won the top prize in the Intel Science and Engineering Fair for his invention. By using fluid dynamics, he made computational simulations of how air moves inside airplane cabins. His conclusions revealed how when a person sneezes on a plane, the airflow acts as an air current spreading pathogens to other passengers.

The SARS outbreak which last two years is estimated to have cost the aviation industry some £40 million
The SARS outbreak which last two years is estimated to have cost the aviation industry some £40 million Image by fsse8info / CC BY-SA 2.0

Business Insider UK in the London Independent reports that airborne diseases such as Ebola, bird flu and SARS have led to a series of international alerts over the past two decades. Mr Wang is hopeful that his blueprint will help slow the spread of such illnesses during flights.

So what is his device? Well, it is no more than a small fan but what it does differently is that it recirculates air out of the plane instead of the current method of pumping stale air continually around the cabin. The young inventor said his interest in this area was aroused during last year’s outbreak of Ebola. He began to check how germs had spread and was piqued by one case where a person suffering from bird flu on a flight ended up infecting 17 others by the time the plane had landed. The spread was facilitated because a lot of the stale air mixed in the centre of the plane.

Mr Wang believes his filters can revolutionise flying because his fans provide “personalised breathing zones” no matter where people sit on the plane. The student is convinced that his device, which he says airlines can implement immediately, will save billions of dollars.

It is estimated that the two year SARS outbreak between 2002-04 cost the industry up to $40 million while the World Health Organisation says that if there were to be a flight outbreak, it could cost up to three trillion pounds.