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Teenager invents system he claims will minimise the spread of germs on planes


RAYMOND Wang is a teenager who has grabbed the world’s attention for all the right reasons.

That’s because the 17-year-old Canadian student has come up with a solution to one of the most dreaded things about flying — getting sick.

Wait, how is that possible? The teen has invented a system to change how air is circulated around the cabin — and thus halt the transmission of germs — and it has well and truly propelled him into the global headlines.

In a recent TED talk, Wang explained how he created computer simulations to show how bacteria moves around the aircraft cabin. He studied cases of germs spreading from passenger to passenger, including a flight where 17 people were infected from one man who had bird flu.

He found that while some air is filtered out, the current air flow system on planes increase the risk of getting sick as the stale air also mixed 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.

“You’ll notice the middle person sneezing,” he said, referring to a computer model showing the spread of a sneeze on a plane “Splat, right into the other people’s faces, pretty disgusting”.

So to solve the problem of stale air being pumped around the cabin continually, he has created a tiny fan-like device called the Global Inlet Director to minimise the spread. Essentially, the fans would create “personalised breathing zones” for all.

They would direct air into smaller spaces before reaching the filters to be cleaned, essentially redirecting any germ spread from other passengers.

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

“You can see that the results we get [with the device installed] are absolutely amazing,” he told the audience. “With the middle passenger sneezing again, we notice this time that we can effectively push this [contaminated air] down for elimination.”

He said it could save the planet billions, and could be easily installed. He’s awaiting a patent for the device.

“In the past, the Sars epidemic actually cost the world about $57 billion and in the future, a big disease outbreak could actually cost the world in excess of $4 trillion.”

Wang first began thinking about a solution to the spread of diseases on planes during the Ebola outbreak last year. While Ebola isn’t spread through the air, other diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and bird flu are. According to WHO, 22 people were infected with SARS on an international flight in 2003 — China Air Flight 112 — in a case that shows how air travel is capable of rapidly spreading diseases.

He discovered few people in the aviation industry were working on a solution, so he decided to step in.

Wang won $107,000 when he first presented his idea, scoring the top prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering fair, the world’s largest high school science competition which was held in Pittsburgh last May.


It’s no wonder germs spread quickly on flights — every year, more than a billion people from the furthest corners of the globe share airports and aircraft.

According to the Oxford Journal of Infectious Diseases: “International travel has made the spread of disease via aeroplanes almost routine. Outbreaks of measles, polio and cholera have been traced back to countries thousands of miles away. Even Ebola previously travelled the globe this way: During an outbreak in Ivory Coast in the 1990s, the virus infected a veterinarian who travelled to Switzerland, where the disease was snuffed out upon arrival and she ultimately survived.”

Dr Deborah Mills, Medical Director of The Travel Doctor in Australia told news.com.au: “The level of filth all around us is amazing, there are simply millions of bacteria and viruses. But we just don’t think about it as we can usually fight them off, unless our immune system is compromised.”

She said anything from the common cold and influenza, to tuberculosis, norovirus and E coli can be caught on a plane.


Most diseases are spread through close contact or by breathing in the particles or droplets coughed or sneezed out from an infected person. They can also be passed on from touching contaminated surfaces or even eating contaminated food.

Planes are confined environments, and those sitting within two rows of a contagious passenger for more than eight hours are at higher risk of transmission, according to researchers. Aircraft can also transport disease-riddled animals such as rats or malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

Updated: January 30, 2016 — 3:04 am

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