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UW professors Jun Liu and Jihui Yang. (UW Photos)

University of Washington researchers are developing a “flashlight-like” gadget that would use multiple electromagnetic sources, including ultraviolet and infrared light, to destroy viruses and bacteria on surfaces more effectively than one radiation source could on its own.

The researchers are looking to do their part to battle COVID-19 and future outbreaks. The approach works “by exposing the target areas to an intense array of multispectrum electromagnetic radiation sources,” according to a provisional patent application, submitted by the University of Washington CoMotion innovation hub on behalf of researchers from the UW Department of Materials Science & Engineering.

The project is moving quickly, but much still needs to be done before such a device could reach widespread use. After testing the approach to determine its efficacy, the researchers plan to explore the possibility of spinning out a startup to commercialize the technology, and they plan to work with industry partners to help manufacture the products.

“Many surfaces are not suitable or accessible for chemical disinfection such as clothes, sofas, papers, porous materials, fabrics, food containers, and food,” UW professor Jun Liu said in a statement. “However, UV light is an effective disinfecting method, and UV lamps are commercially available.”

The technology also could be scaled up, with backpack or briefcase-sized devices for disinfecting large public spaces.

Liu and his colleague, professor Jihui Yang, are leading the effort, working with post-doctoral student Mengyu Yan and graduate chemistry student Mitchell Kaiser. It’s an outgrowth of the team’s ongoing efforts to use powerful Li-ion batteries for new applications in energy storage and health care.

Scientists around the world are working on innovations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as governments re-open and people return to work.?Ultraviolet light has long been used by medical professionals as a disinfectant for surfaces, however it is not an effective treatment or therapy for the virus when it has infected a human body, despite comments made by President Donald Trump last week.

University of Washington scientists are conducting a clinical trial of a possible therapy that Trump has promoted, the controversial drug hydroxychloroquine. It is unclear whether the malaria and autoimmune disease drug increases or decreases COVID-19 patient mortality.

GeekWire editor Todd Bishop contributed to this report.

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