Wang, Amy, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Anderson, Eric, EN-Chem Engr Dept PV-International Studies, University of Virginia
Baritaud, Catherine, EN-Engineering and Society PV-Summer & Spec Acad Progs, University of Virginia

The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has affected millions of people globally. Despite the availability of new technology, such as vaccines and rapid COVID-19 tests, healthcare inequity remains a concern for low-income and racial minority groups in the U.S. Ceres Nanosciences Inc., a small company based in Manassas, VA is scaling up the production of a new COVID-19 testing technology. Their product is the NanotrapⓇ, a hydrogel nanoparticle that adsorbs and concentrates SARS-CoV-2 for faster and more accurate COVID-19 testing. The technical project aims to minimize liquid waste during the NanotrapⓇ production process to decrease waste disposal costs and environmental hazards. The STS research project applies the Actor Network Theory on the current U.S. COVID-19 vaccine distribution system to propose new methods for more equitable vaccine administration. The technical and STS research topics are tightly coupled as they both involve the diffusion of new technology pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NanotrapⓇ production process involves the production of CN0002, CN1030, and CN3080 particles. The polymer core is synthesized in CN0002, which is then fed into the CN1030 process for dye attachment to make CN1030. Lastly, small magnets are coupled to the CN1030 particles to form the final product, CN3080, or NanotrapⓇ. Each of the three process produces a significant amount of liquid waste. As Ceres scales up process by one hundred times the original volume, liquid waste management has been a major issue, so the technical research team investigated three methods to decrease waste volume. The methods include implementing recycle streams, activated carbon filtration, and countercurrent tangential flow filtration.

Recycle streams can be implemented for both the CN1030 and CN3080 processes, but the technical team recommends to only implement recycling in the CN1030 process, since the material cost of the CN3080 process is orders of magnitude greater, which increases the risk of implementation. Furthermore, direct addition of granulated activated carbon shows potential benefits in decreasing waste volume and cost, but the technical team recommends small batch tests prior to implementing it in the full-scale process. Lastly, four designs are proposed for multi-stage countercurrent processes. Although the more complex designs minimize the waste volume more, the less complex designs are easier to implement and require less oversight of the process; therefore, the team recommends the least complex design as a short-term solution.

The STS topic investigates the social injustices of the current U.S. COVID-19 vaccination network by investigating various case studies and applying the Actor Network Theory. Sources, including newspaper articles and academic papers, were employed to identify, evaluate, and propose solutions to increase equitable access to COVID-19 vaccination. Additionally, comparisons are drawn between COVID-19 and polio to highlight important actors in the network. The actors include public, federal, state, and local governments, universities and research institutes, pharmaceutical companies, and vaccination.

Social injustices in the vaccination system are also investigated. Black and Latino Americans in the U.S. are less likely to accept the vaccine despite belonging in the group most disproportionately affected by COVID-19. An additional actor, outreach, is recommended to serve as an obligatory passage point between the public and the government, in order to decrease vaccine hesitancy and increase vaccination rates. Additionally, coordination between actors are required to resolve misunderstandings between social groups. Lastly, consistent data collection on income and race should be implemented nationwide to provide feedback on the effectiveness of new policies aimed at reaching the underserved communities.

Vaccine hesitancy and healthcare inequity are only two examples of issues that innovators face when implementing a new technology in an already-established societal network. The complexities of social groups and the interactions between them must be thoroughly studied prior to introducing any new technology. Although the technical project focuses on the technical challenges of scaling up a production process, the role of the new technology must be thoroughly studied as well to understand the interactions between society and technology.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
COVID-19, Vaccination network, Actor Network Theory, Ceres Nanotrap, Waste minimization
Sponsoring Agency:
Ceres Nanosciences, Inc.

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Eric Anderson
STS Advisor: Catherine Baritaud
Technical Team Members: Amy Wang, Kathryn Smith, James Mullin, Justin Fernandes, Peter Miedaner

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