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UC Merced Part of CITRIS’s COVID-19 Rapid Response Grants

May 14, 2020

UC Merced professors are leading or participating in four technology projects designed to mitigate the COVID-19 crisis.

The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute awarded seed grants to 25 interdisciplinary, multi-campus teams to address the pandemic.

More than 95 proposals were reviewed, including rapid-cycle ventilators; next-generation face masks; new algorithms for contact tracing and advance prediction; and a portable, point-of-care rapid-testing device the size of a credit card.

The four awarded that include UC Merced are:

· A path to advance telehealth for low-income Californians, led by public health Professor Denise Payan from UC Merced and public health professors Hector Rodriguez from UC Berkeley and Lorena Garcia from UC Davis.

· A mobile, low-cost, scalable, user-friendly sanitizer for various applications, led by UC Merced engineering Professor Reza Ehsani.

· A sensor platform for rapid COVID-19 antibody detection, led by UC Merced engineering professorsWei-Chun Chin, Changqing Li and Jennifer Lu.

· A thorough microbial risk assessment and geospatial analysis of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater for vulnerable populations, led by UC Merced engineering Professor Colleen Naughton and Professor Maureen Kinyua with UC Davis.

CITRIS is headquartered at UC Berkeley, but has branches at UC Merced, UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz. Each project receives about $50,000, and each was selected with an eye toward cost, scalability and impact. The chosen projects are designed to show research results within three to six months. An anonymous donor gave $1.6 million in a matching challenge, which could greatly increase the number of projects that could be funded.

“We are clearly focused on leveraging University of California resources and know-how to solve one of the greatest societal challenges of our time,” said campus CITRIS Director and School of Engineering Associate Dean for Research Joshua Viers, who is also serving as a member of the UC Merced COVID-19 Research Relaunch working group, focusing on identifying measures to accelerate reopening of campus research facilities in a safe and resilient manner.

In addition to seed funding, CITRIS and the Banatao Institute have undertaken other efforts to address the pandemic through research thrusts and labs, from mobilizing CITRIS Health’s international networks to get personal protective equipment into the hands of U.S. clinicians to fabricating ventilator adaptors in the CITRIS Invention Lab to convert consumer-grade sleep apnea devices for clinical use. Throughout its 20-year history, CITRIS has developed technology solutions to respond to disasters — including earthquakes, wildfires, and floods — building resilience in California and beyond.