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TEDYouth 2015

Raymond Wang: How germs travel on planes -- and how we can stop them

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Views 1,699,993

Raymond Wang is only 17 years old, but he's already helping to build a healthier future. Using fluid dynamics, he created computational simulations of how air moves on airplanes, and what he found is disturbing -- when a person sneezes on a plane, the airflow actually helps to spread pathogens to other passengers. Wang shares an unforgettable animation of how a sneeze travels inside a plane cabin as well as his prize-winning solution: a small, fin-shaped device that increases fresh airflow in airplanes and redirects pathogen-laden air out of circulation.

- Inventor
Raymond Wang won the top prize in the 2015 Intel Science and Engineering Fair for his invention that circulates fresh air on planes and reduces transmission of germs between passengers. Full bio

Can I get a show of hands --
00:13
how many of you in this room
have been on a plane in this past year?
00:15
That's pretty good.
00:20
Well, it turns out that you
share that experience
00:21
with more than three billion
people every year.
00:24
And when we put so many people
in all these metal tubes
00:27
that fly all over the world,
00:30
sometimes, things like this can happen
00:31
and you get a disease epidemic.
00:34
I first actually got into this topic
00:37
when I heard about the Ebola
outbreak last year.
00:39
And it turns out that,
00:41
although Ebola spreads
through these more range-limited,
00:43
large-droplet routes,
00:46
there's all these other sorts of diseases
00:47
that can be spread in the airplane cabin.
00:49
The worst part is, when we take
a look at some of the numbers,
00:51
it's pretty scary.
00:54
So with H1N1,
00:56
there was this guy that decided
to go on the plane
00:57
and in the matter of a single flight
01:00
actually spread the disease
to 17 other people.
01:02
And then there was this
other guy with SARS,
01:04
who managed to go on a three-hour flight
01:06
and spread the disease to 22 other people.
01:08
That's not exactly my idea
of a great superpower.
01:11
When we take a look at this,
what we also find
01:15
is that it's very difficult
to pre-screen for these diseases.
01:18
So when someone actually
goes on a plane,
01:21
they could be sick
01:23
and they could actually
be in this latency period
01:24
in which they could actually
have the disease
01:27
but not exhibit any symptoms,
01:29
and they could, in turn,
spread the disease
01:31
to many other people in the cabin.
01:33
How that actually works is that right now
01:35
we've got air coming in
from the top of the cabin
01:37
and from the side of the cabin,
as you see in blue.
01:39
And then also, that air goes out
through these very efficient filters
01:41
that eliminate 99.97 percent
of pathogens near the outlets.
01:46
What happens right now, though,
01:51
is that we have this
mixing airflow pattern.
01:52
So if someone were to actually sneeze,
01:55
that air would get swirled
around multiple times
01:56
before it even has a chance
to go out through the filter.
01:59
So I thought: clearly, this
is a pretty serious problem.
02:03
I didn't have the money
to go out and buy a plane,
02:07
so I decided to build a computer instead.
02:10
It actually turns out that
with computational fluid dynamics,
02:13
what we're able to do
is create these simulations
02:16
that give us higher resolutions
02:18
than actually physically going
in and taking readings in the plane.
02:20
And so how, essentially, this works
is you would start out
02:24
with these 2D drawings --
02:27
these are floating around
in technical papers around the Internet.
02:29
I take that and then I put it
into this 3D-modeling software,
02:32
really building that 3D model.
02:35
And then I divide that model
that I just built into these tiny pieces,
02:37
essentially meshing it so that
the computer can better understand it.
02:41
And then I tell the computer where
the air goes in and out of the cabin,
02:45
throw in a bunch of physics
02:49
and basically sit there and wait until
the computer calculates the simulation.
02:50
So what we get, actually,
with the conventional cabin is this:
02:56
you'll notice the middle person sneezing,
02:59
and we go "Splat!" -- it goes
right into people's faces.
03:02
It's pretty disgusting.
03:06
From the front, you'll notice
those two passengers
03:08
sitting next to the central passenger
03:11
not exactly having a great time.
03:12
And when we take a look
at that from the side,
03:14
you'll also notice those pathogens
spreading across the length of the cabin.
03:16
The first thing I thought was,
"This is no good."
03:22
So I actually conducted
more than 32 different simulations
03:24
and ultimately, I came up
with this solution right here.
03:27
This is what I call a -- patent pending --
Global Inlet Director.
03:31
With this, we're able to reduce
pathogen transmission
03:34
by about 55 times,
03:37
and increase fresh-air inhalation
by about 190 percent.
03:39
So how this actually works
03:42
is we would install this piece
of composite material
03:44
into these existing spots
that are already in the plane.
03:47
So it's very cost-effective to install
03:50
and we can do this directly overnight.
03:52
All we have to do is put a couple
of screws in there and you're good to go.
03:54
And the results that we get
are absolutely amazing.
03:57
Instead of having those problematic
swirling airflow patterns,
04:00
we can create these walls of air
04:04
that come down in-between the passengers
04:05
to create personalized breathing zones.
04:08
So you'll notice the middle passenger
here is sneezing again,
04:09
but this time, we're able
to effectively push that down
04:12
to the filters for elimination.
04:15
And same thing from the side,
04:18
you'll notice we're able to directly
push those pathogens down.
04:19
So if you take a look again now
at the same scenario
04:23
but with this innovation installed,
04:27
you'll notice the middle
passenger sneezes,
04:28
and this time, we're pushing
that straight down into the outlet
04:30
before it gets a chance
to infect any other people.
04:34
So you'll notice the two passengers
sitting next to the middle guy
04:37
are breathing virtually
no pathogens at all.
04:40
Take a look at that from the side as well,
04:43
you see a very efficient system.
04:45
And in short, with this system, we win.
04:47
When we take a look at what this means,
04:51
what we see is that this not only works
if the middle passenger sneezes,
04:54
but also if the window-seat
passenger sneezes
04:57
or if the aisle-seat passenger sneezes.
05:00
And so with this solution, what does
this mean for the world?
05:03
Well, when we take a look at this
05:06
from the computer simulation
into real life,
05:09
we can see with this 3D model
that I built over here,
05:12
essentially using 3D printing,
05:15
we can see those same
airflow patterns coming down,
05:17
right to the passengers.
05:20
In the past, the SARS epidemic
actually cost the world
05:22
about 40 billion dollars.
05:26
And in the future,
05:27
a big disease outbreak
could actually cost the world
05:29
in excess of three trillion dollars.
05:31
So before, it used to be that you had
to take an airplane out of service
05:33
for one to two months,
05:37
spend tens of thousands of man hours
and several million dollars
05:39
to try to change something.
05:42
But now, we're able to install
something essentially overnight
05:44
and see results right away.
05:47
So it's really now a matter of taking
this through to certification,
05:49
flight testing,
05:52
and going through all of these
regulatory approvals processes.
05:54
But it just really goes to show
that sometimes the best solutions
05:57
are the simplest solutions.
06:00
And two years ago, even,
06:01
this project would not have happened,
06:05
just because the technology then
wouldn't have supported it.
06:06
But now with advanced computing
06:09
and how developed our Internet is,
06:12
it's really the golden era for innovation.
06:14
And so the question I ask all
of you today is: why wait?
06:17
Together, we can build the future today.
06:20
Thanks.
06:23
(Applause)
06:24

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About the speaker:

Raymond Wang - Inventor
Raymond Wang won the top prize in the 2015 Intel Science and Engineering Fair for his invention that circulates fresh air on planes and reduces transmission of germs between passengers.

Why you should listen

Raymond Wang is a Canadian youth innovator who is passionate about science, technology, engineering and entrepreneurship. He is one of Canada's Top 20 Under 20, and most recently, the recipient of the Gordon E. Moore award for the Top Project at the 2015 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).

Raymond enjoys exploring STEM and promoting global sustainability. His latest engineering innovations, including his work with aircraft cabin airflow and his inventions of the “Weather Harvester,” “Smart Knee Assistant” and "Smart Bin,” have achieved international recognition.

Raymond is enthusiastic about inspiring others to pursue STEM opportunities. He actively reaches out to the local community through camps & associations, in addition to communities around the world through YouTube & Modern Media.

Having a strong passion for sustainability, Raymond has founded Sustainable Youth Canada, a youth-led non-profit organization dedicated to empowering young people in Affiliated Regions established from coast to coast to be leaders in tackling issues with environmental and energy sustainability.

In his spare time, Raymond enjoys exploring music as both a National Youth Band clarinetist and an avid pianist. He is also a keen director of films and videos; many of his productions have been recognized at local film festivals. 

Raymond envisions himself pursuing a career in science, applying research and innovation with a business approach to do his part in bettering the world.

More profile about the speaker
Raymond Wang | Speaker | TED.com