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UCSD students, staff build filtration boxes to prevent spread of COVID in classrooms

Just one day before classes began, UCSD students and staff helped make their classrooms safer against COVID-19 by building DIY air filters out of boxes and fans.

SAN DIEGO — Thinking outside the box, students took COVID safety into their own hands.

"It’s a box fan, and then you make a cube out of these filters that you can buy at any hardware store, super inexpensive compared to the $600 filters,” said Dr. Kim Prather, UCSD distinguished professor of chemistry.

UC San Diego students and staff prepped for their first day of in-person classes which start Thursday by building box air filters.

"They are very powerful, and they work. Hopefully, the particles will go into that box before it goes into your lungs,” Dr. Prather said.

Dr. Kim Prather said the inexpensive, do-it-yourself filtration boxes are key to slowing the spread of any airborne virus indoors.

“People do not know they are sick, so they are not coughing, they are not sneezing, and they do not have a temperature, and they are producing aerosols, which are like cigarette smoke,” Dr. Prather said.

Volunteers made 250 box filters - which are also called Corsi-Rosenthal boxes.

"It’s been a huge effort to get all of the materials in place and to get this group of students and faculty together to help build the boxes,” said UCSD dean, division of biological sciences Kit Pogliano.

Pogliano says the filters are just one layer of protection amid strict Covid safety guidelines on campus from testing and having the vaccine and requiring mask-wearing in all classes.

"We think of it as a Swiss cheese sandwich, where with Swiss cheese, it has holes in it, and no layer of protection will keep you totally safe, but by layering these multiple levels of protection together is going to be able to keep the campus more safe during the COVID-19 pandemic as these go into a mixture of lecture halls and instructional labs,” Pogliano

Only one box is needed per small room, the fan can be on the lowest setting, and the filter will last up to 6 months to clear more than just Covid particles.

"Even Air pollution, so when we have wildfire season, this filter is going to pull that out of the air too, so you will be breathing some of the cleanest indoor air,” Dr. Prather said.

UCSD Student Body President and senior in urban planning Manu Agni says the box filter will take him 15 minutes to assemble.

"The tape makes a good seal and once the seal is complete, you put on the fan and tape up the fan, and add a little shroud,” Agni said.

Manu says he can't wait to start his senior year back on campus and feels safe indoors.

"It’s kind of funny actually to think that something that we can’t see, something that is so complicated it has really upended our lives for the last nearly two years is able to be mitigated to something standard as a box that looks like it is made out of cardboard,” Agni said.

To build your own box filter, here is a step-by-step guide.