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Adding a Layer of Protection to Indoor Air

Melissa Bilec Creates Exhibit for Carnegie Science Center to Show the Role of Filters in Stopping the Spread of SARS-CoV-2

PITTSBURGH (Sept. 18, 2020) — Because the novel coronavirus spreads through the air, experts continue to recommend outdoor activities over remaining indoors. However, the right air filter can make indoor air safer and help prevent the spread of the virus.

Melissa Bilec, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, explains how these filters work in a new exhibit at Carnegie Science Center, which employs the HEPA filters that help keep the air clean. 

Experts have determined that the novel coronavirus is primarily spread by droplets from someone talking, sneezing or coughing nearby. However, it is also potentially “aerosolized,” meaning it can be attached to particles so small that they remain suspended in the air. The display explains the difference between the weight of aerosolized particles versus droplets—a tiny feather versus a golf ball—and how both masks and our buildings can provide another layer of protection.

Indoors, HVAC systems circulate air around the building. While research is still determining exactly how much of a role HVAC systems may play in the spread of the virus, Bilec’s display shows how filters that are at least MERV 13 or a HEPA filter can help by trapping the particles carrying the virus.

“With so much mis-information about COVID-19, I hope our exhibit will teach people about the way our buildings can do some of that important work for us,” said Bilec the Roberta A. Luxbacher Faculty Fellow and deputy director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. “I am passionate about ensuring my research positively impacts society and the environment, and I’m thrilled to work with the Carnegie Science Center.”

Bilec’s research primarily focuses on improving the built environment, with an eye toward the effects of poor air quality and strategies to improve both indoor and ambient air quality. For the past decade she and her students have worked with underserved communities throughout Pittsburgh to help low-income families create a more sustainable home environment. Their solutions focus on projects including energy assessments and indoor air quality. 

The display will be featured at Carnegie Science Center as well as other Carnegie museums, including The Andy Warhol Museum.

"As an advocate for science literacy, we saw the pandemic as an opportunity to combine a message about real research, current events, and museum collections in one place,” said Dennis Bateman, director of exhibits at Carnegie Science Center. "We didn't want to just dwell on the pandemic for our visitors coming to enjoy themselves as an escape from the restrictions in our lives now, but we did want to reassure them about our precautions while they are here, to connect research to real-world examples, like protecting our valuable collections—and our valued guests."

Author: Maggie Pavlick

Contact: Maggie Pavlick