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Technical Assistance Program connects Virginia Tech' expertise with business needs

Friday, October 16, 2020  
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When Roger Whyte, president of LiteSheet Solutions, wanted to show that the Virginia-based manufacturer’s disinfecting cabinet was effective against the virus that causes COVID-19, he turned to Virginia Tech’s Technical Assistance Program.

Developed as part of the university’s engagement mission and administered by Continuing and Professional Education, this program enables faculty members to respond quickly to market needs requiring technical expertise and provides businesses with a streamlined process for accessing this knowledge.

“With the Technical Assistance Program, we match university expertise with the needs of a business or other external organization,” Director Shelly Jobst said. “Ultimately, the program helps build and strengthen the relationship between Virginia Tech’s world-class faculty and the business community.”

Continuing and Professional Education, part of Outreach and International Affairs, manages all financial and contractual transactions of the program. Usually, the program results in short-term consulting projects that require a quick turnaround.

Faculty members can often have their participation recognized as university outreach on their annual faculty activity report. It’s also an opportunity for them to build a relationship with a company that may eventually lead to a more substantial grant or contract for research and development.

With the LiteSheet project, a team from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg tested the efficacy of the disinfecting cabinet against the novel coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2, the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic. The cabinet, which uses UV light to decontaminate surfaces, has practical applications in disinfecting equipment in offices, nursing homes, medical facilities, schools, restaurants, hotels, and other locations.

The research was led by Nisha Duggal, an assistant professor of molecular and cellular biology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology and an affiliated faculty member of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute.

“We tested the capacity of SARS-CoV-2 to infect cells after a 15-minute incubation within the LiteSheet UV-C cabinet or outside of the cabinet. We found that the level of infectious SARS-CoV-2 on a surface was reduced by 99.95% after 15 minutes in the cabinet,” Duggal said.

By optimally positioning germ- and virus-killing UV-C LED modules inside the cabinet to eliminate blind spots, anything inside is disinfected within minutes. UV-C light wavelengths between 200 and 280 nanometers are used against bacteria, molds, and viruses. The light penetrates through their cell walls and disrupts the structure of their DNA molecules, prohibiting reproduction.

“The collaboration between Dr. Duggal’s team and LiteSheet is just one example of the type of technical assistance Virginia Tech can provide to businesses,” said Alyssa McKenney, a contract program specialist with Continuing and Professional Education who helped facilitate the project. “By cultivating these kinds of relationships, we are providing university expertise to solve real-world problems.”

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