Chancellor Malatras Awards Grants to Increase Lifesaving PPE and Create More Effective Safety and Communication Measures to Protect Against COVID and Other Infectious Diseases

December 18, 2020

Grants up to $10,000 from SUNY Prepare Innovation and Internship Program will Support 12 Teams of SUNY Students and Faculty From Seven Campuses

Albany, NY – While COVID-19 vaccines are now being given to medical personnel fighting at the frontlines of the pandemic, personal protective equipment and other healthcare protocols will continue to be necessary in containing the virus in the coming months and other infectious diseases in the future. As a way to develop state-of-the-art PPE and improve effective safety interventions, State University of New York Chancellor Jim Malatras announced today awards from the SUNY Prepare Innovation and Internship Program. A total of 12 teams of SUNY students and faculty across seven campuses received up to $10,000 each in seed funding to conduct further research on their proposals. The program is designed to provide real life, hands-on applied learning experiences for students, and actively involve them in the creation of pandemic-related solutions.

"From day one, SUNY has been leading the effort to combat COVID-19 with providing frontline healthcare workers PPE, like face shields using innovative 3D printing technology, developing world-leading testing, and conducting vaccine trials—in other words, SUNY has helped save lives," said Chancellor Malatras. "We want to continue to harness the intellectual firepower of SUNY faculty, researchers, and students to develop the latest breakthroughs in the fight against COVID-19 or the next infectious disease. I applaud today's 12 award winners for their innovations because they will help slow the spread and make a difference. This is just another example of how the largest system of public higher education is making an important impact."

Twelve student and faculty teams were awarded today from seven SUNY campuses. The winning proposals range from developing new antiviral surface sanitizers for college campuses and other facilities to creating a low-cost surgical mask that has the filtration efficiency of an N95 respirator while maintaining airflow for individuals with respiratory issues.

The 12 winning projects are:

University at Albany—Communication Strategy to Combat COVID-19 Health Disparities

UAlbany President Havidán Rodríguez said, "Clear communication is critical during any emergency, and this is especially true during a long-term public health crisis. This investment by SUNY will help ensure critical public health messages reach Limited English Proficient individuals—an important step toward eliminating the persistent minority health disparities highlighted so dramatically throughout this pandemic."

  • Lead Researcher Rukhsana Ahmed: This project will assess the efficacy of innovative health communication strategies focused on educating Limited English Proficient (LEP) individuals about public health protective measures to combat COVID-19. The project team will analyze the efficacy of COVID-19 prevention YouTube videos, with pre- and post-testing in groups of LEPs from diverse backgrounds, and provide recommendations for effective integration of video messages into public health campaigns to reduce communication inequality during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Binghamton University—Telemental Health for Marginalized Families, LED UVC Disinfection Technology for Indoor Spaces, and Low-cost SARS-CoV-2 Sensor for Surfaces

Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger said, "It is a great privilege for our students and faculty to have the opportunity to pursue these projects, which could help protect the people of New York State and beyond. That three of our projects were selected shows how innovative and big-thinking our students and faculty are, and we are excited to see what our teams can accomplish."

  • Lead Researcher Youjung Lee: The telemental health intervention project will develop, implement, and assess the effectiveness of an innovative telemental health service for New York State's marginalized and vulnerable children and families during COVID-19, and train social work students to use this evidence-based intervention model to immediately serve high-needs children and families during the pandemic.
  • Lead Researcher Kaiming Ye: The LED disinfection technology team will collaborate with Glamcor, a lighting company based in New York City, to produce an LED UVC-based lighting system for disinfecting airborne SARS-CoV-2. This system will be designed for installation in indoor spaces such as an office, subway, restaurant, or gym to eradicate SARS-Cov-2 from the surface, air, or circulating air with minimal health concerns for people and thereby help restore indoor activities.
  • Lead Researcher Huiyuan Guo: The final team from Binghamton University selected for this award will focus on the development of a rapid, low-cost, and versatile sensor to monitor SARS-CoV-2 on high-contact surfaces. The sensor will be made of a soft nanofibrous material with an embedded indicator that will undergo colorimetric change upon contact with the virus, and will be attachable to masks, ventilation filters, door handles, and other high-contact surfaces.

University at Buffalo—Wastewater Surveillance for COVID-19 and Automated Mask Production

  • Lead Researcher Diana Aga: The first project from UB will focus on an innovative wastewater surveillance approach to monitor a wide range of viral infections on campuses, extending the capacity of current wastewater surveillance techniques that are based on genome detection. The proposed research will involve interdisciplinary collaborations between environmental engineering and analytical chemistry faculty and students to develop methods for detection of viral proteins and levels of antiviral drugs and other pharmaceuticals, such as anti-inflammatory drugs that are used in managing complications of viral infections in wastewater.
  • Lead Researcher Hadar Borden: Based on an idea that came out of the University at Buffalo Startup Weekend, a boot camp for driving student entrepreneurship, the Automated Mask Production project will automate the sewing process for fabric masks using an attachment to existing sewing machines. The project aims to make it efficient, easier, and cheaper to produce high-quality masks and will allow individuals with sewing machines the flexibility to make and personalize their own masks with ease.

SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University—Community Engaged COVID-19 Health Campaign and Antiviral/Antimicrobial Coating for Surface Sanitization in Hospitals and College Dorms

  • Lead Researcher Marlene Camacho-Rivera: The Community Engaged COVID-19 Health Campaign project will examine knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and barriers to receiving vaccination among COVID-19 high-risk groups (such as underrepresented minorities, essential workers, and individuals with chronic health conditions). It will also identify trust in various health information sources (such as health care providers, government agencies, internet, and social media) and will develop and disseminate tailored messaging for preventive behaviors and COVID-19 vaccination among such vulnerable populations.
  • Lead Researcher Ming Zhang: This study will test HaloFilm—a new class of antiviral, antimicrobial coating polymer with self-sanitizing properties—to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases in hospital and college dorm settings within SUNY Downstate University Hospital. While safe for human touch, simulation studies have shown that the coating rapidly kills any infectious agents (bacteria, fungi, and viruses). Various high touch surfaces in hospital spaces and dorms at SUNY Downstate University Hospital will be tested as part of this evaluation.

Fashion Institute of Technology—PPE for Diverse Body Types

  • Lead Researcher Karen Pearson: This multidisciplinary team of faculty and students from various departments, including fashion design, science and math, textile development, and marketing and production management, will design, develop, and produce a zero-waste, adaptable face mask that will appeal to diverse body types. Using a STEAM (STEM+Art) approach, the project will identify a sustainable material, design a new mask with adaptable features, and create a prototype with comfort, visibility, and safety as key design drivers.

SUNY Oswego—Improving SARS-CoV-2 Detection Techniques

SUNY Oswego President Deborah F. Stanley said, "The SUNY grant will support the important work of Oswego Professors Bendinskas and Koeppe in recognizing the continuous mutation of the COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 virus and the need for our detection methods of the virus to evolve. The grant will also provide the opportunity for two undergraduate students to engage in innovative research, highlighting the continuing efforts by SUNY Oswego to provide high-impact learning experiences and faculty mentoring to our students. Professors Bendinskas and Koeppe have significant experience working with students in this way, and we look forward to seeing this study progress."

  • Lead Researcher Kestutis Bendinskas: Mutations and evolutions of the SARS COV-2 virus may increase false positives/false negatives for current detection methods. This calls for the need to evolve the tools for virus detection. This team of biochemists will explore current reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction-detection (RT-PCR) methods used in COVID-19 detection and determine if forward and reverse primers are affected by mutations known to date with an end goal to adjust the primers and improve the efficacy of detection.

Stony Brook University—ADA-Compliant Transparent Masks and a Low-Cost Surgical Mask for People with Respiratory Problems

Stony Brook University President Maurie D. McInnis said, "At the height of the pandemic last spring, Stony Brook students, faculty, and staff engineered solutions to support our frontline workers, and conducted research that is helping us better understand the Novel Coronavirus. Now, thanks to this infusion of support from SUNY, students and faculty on our campus will continue to pursue real world solutions to address the challenges presented by the virus that will ultimately help our faculty and clinical staff safely do their jobs in the academic and in the clinical setting. We appreciate Chancellor Malatras and SUNY for spearheading this investment and supporting our students through this important initiative."

  • Lead Researcher Taejin Kim: The ADA-Compliant Transparent Masks project will develop a customizable reusable transparent mask that meets an ADA standard that will help deaf and hard of hearing individuals. The mask includes a removable transparent sheet insert that can be cleaned with soap and water or with a disinfectant wipe and is customizable for different age groups (children to adults) and facilities (e.g., childcare centers, main campus, hospital). The team will also develop a kit and framework for sharing the design across all SUNY campuses.
  • Lead Researcher Maya Endoh: Wearing a mask is one of the most effective means to protect against the COVID-19 virus. N95 respirators offer high filtration performance, but are not advisable for people with respiratory problems because of limited airflow. This team will create a low-cost surgical mask using an aerogel solution that has the filtration efficiency of an N95 respirator while maintaining airflow. The team will also seek to find an environmentally safe biodegradable material for these masks that will not sacrifice filtration effectiveness.

SUNY's Spring PPE Production

During the first wave of the pandemic in New York State this year, SUNY campuses were producing 2,100 face shields a day amongst 20 SUNY college and university campuses, including University at Albany, Alfred State, Binghamton University, Broome Community College, University at Buffalo, Canton, Cobleskill, SUNY's Cornell colleges, Delhi, Hudson Valley Community College, Jefferson Community College, New Paltz, Oneonta, Oswego, SUNY Polytechnic Institute, Plattsburgh, Potsdam, SUNY Schenectady, Stony Brook University, and Sullivan County Community College. Face shield manufacturing has remained steady as campuses received materials for 3D production.

SUNY campuses also focused on face masks, with over 30 SUNY campuses producing and donating masks to hospitals, doctors' offices, nursing homes, other healthcare organizations, and essential businesses throughout New York State. Alumni and students from SUNY's Fashion Institute of Technology are among those continuing these efforts, including the alumni-led volunteer group Sew4Lives, which has donated over 20,000 masks.

SUNY Upstate Research

As the lead principal investigator of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, Dr. Thomas, Upstate's Chief of Infectious Disease, supported Pfizer and BioNTech as they prepared vaccine trial data for submission to regulatory agencies worldwide, including the FDA, which approved the vaccine late last week. As one of the global phase three vaccine trial sites, SUNY Upstate Medical was one of three sites and enrolled more than 300 adult volunteers in the trial. The study of the vaccine candidate in younger volunteers will begin soon, with Upstate Medical being selected again as one of a few sites.

SUNY hospitals and other campuses have been leading healthcare research since the COVID pandemic began. In addition to SUNY Upstate's involvement in the vaccine, the Syracuse hospital received FDA and NYSDOH approval for a saliva test that has been used across SUNY campuses to test students, faculty, and staff throughout the fall semester. Last week, the FDA ranked it as the number one COVID-19 saliva test for detecting the virus in its earliest stages. The test, developed by Upstate Medical and NY Start-Up Quadrant Biosciences and led by Upstate's Dr. Frank Middleton, was also cited by the FDA as being among the most sensitive tests regardless of type, ranking 6th worldwide in detecting the virus. The test is cost effective and easy to use. During the fall semester, SUNY has conducted 624,367 tests to date and had a positive rate of 0.53 percent.

About the State University of New York
The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, a law school, the country’s oldest school of maritime, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.4 million students amongst its entire portfolio of credit- and non-credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2023, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are more than three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunities, visit

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