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chemistry professor John TrantChemistry professor John Trant is researching new formulations for hand sanitizers, degreasers, and anti-viral coatings to help fight the global pandemic.

UWindsor chemist researching novel ways to fight COVID-19

The next generation of keypads, elevator buttons, and fuel pump handles could automatically destroy viruses, thanks to the research of UWindsor chemist John Trant.

Dr. Trant is looking into ways to coat frequently touched surfaces in a resin that dissolves viruses like the one that causes COVID-19. The material would be applied at the manufacturing stage, relieving storekeepers of the need to constantly disinfect surfaces touched by the public.

“Even if we’re keeping space between us but we’re touching the same surfaces, the virus will spread,” Trant said. “An anti-viral coating for surfaces that absorbs virus particles and destroys them could solve that problem.”

Trant’s research is being funded, in part, by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, which has set up a special $15 million fund in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Trant has received a research grant of $50,000, the maximum available under the program.

The deadline to apply for a grant under the COVID program is June 1, but NSERC is funding worthy research projects as they are submitted to respond rapidly to the pandemic. Trant’s research is the first UWindsor project to be funded.

The anti-viral coating Trant is developing is one of four aims of his research project. He has already largely accomplished the first — developing a liquid hand sanitizer based on the formula recommended by the World Health Organization, but that is softer on the skin.

Trant has partnered with local companies — Wolfhead Distillery, cannabis company Peak Processing, and condiment bottler Inner Seasonings — to procure the ingredients and begin distributing the hand sanitizer locally. Peak’s chemist, Justin Binder, is a UWindsor grad. Trant said he is lucky that one of the post-doctoral fellows in his lab, Fred Shahbazi, is a cosmetics chemist and was able to come up with a formulation from available ingredients.

The next step in the hand sanitizer project is to develop a gel formulation. Most gelling agents are made in China, where production halted because of the pandemic at a time when demand skyrocketed.

“All these gelling agents are not available in North America right now,” Trant said. “We’re working with companies that use gelling agents for other applications to see if we can repurpose them for this.”

Gelling agents used in food sauces, cosmetics, and paints are usually used with water, but hand sanitizer is mostly alcohol, Trant explained.

If he is successful in using those agents in hand sanitizer, he would be solving a supply-chain issue.

“We think we have a made-in-Canada solution to this problem.”

Another phase of the project is to come up with a degreasing hand cleaner with anti-viral agents in it.

Hand sanitizers aren’t always effective for people who work outside of clean office settings, Trant explained: “The virus is protected in that layer of grease and grime when your hands get dirty and sweaty.”

The product he envisions would dissolve the oils and the virus particles at the same time.

Trant will test his products on the lung cells of rats infected with the coronavirus, which pose no infection threat to humans. For testing on the virus that affects humans, he will collaborate with a scientist at Laval University in Québec City whose lab is set up for such experimentation.

In addition to his other collaborators, Trant is working with BASF and Pelee Island Winery on parts of this research.

Trant said NSERC’s rapid funding of projects is important to his research and the fight against COVID-19.

“We aren’t just making hand sanitizers, we’re doing new science here,” he said. “This funding allows us to try new things and solve new problems that the off-the-shelf products can’t.”

—Sarah Sacheli

Update on planning for the Fall 2020 semester

A message from president Robert Gordon to the University of Windsor campus community:

COVID-19 has challenged all of us over the last few months, and the dedication, commitment, and collaborative efforts of faculty, staff, and students have been fundamental to how successfully we have navigated this difficult period so far. The situation continues to evolve: the Ontario government has begun to operationalize a stage-by-stage approach to loosening emergency measures as we all find our way to a new normal.

Although there is evidence that Ontario is succeeding in flattening the curve collectively, there will be limits to how we operate on university campuses for some time. Universities are complex collaborative environments and UWindsor is no exception. Students live, learn, work, and socialize in many campus spaces, in residences, and off-campus, and these conditions pose significant risks for the transmission of COVID-19. Even after emergency restrictions are lifted, we need to be prepared for the possibility of new outbreaks and the return of strict social distancing or other emergency measures.

The health and well-being of students, staff, and instructors remain our foremost concern. We are continuing to respond to the changing conditions and guidelines in the province as we plan for the resumption of on-campus teaching, research, and associated activities.

While there is still considerable uncertainty about how the next months will unfold, we have been working hard to plan a pathway forward for the upcoming Fall semester that will foster safe, enriching, and rewarding educational experiences for both new and returning students. This pathway is based on the priorities that are intrinsic to our mission and values, now and always:

  • Safeguarding the health and well-being of students, faculty, and staff;
  • Delivering high-quality educational experiences; and
  • Supporting, in an inclusive and equitable environment, the continuation of knowledge creation, community engagement, innovation, and collaboration with partners across our region and beyond.

We want students to be able to pursue safely and successfully the academic goals they have chosen, no matter where they are, what their situations are, or how health risks evolve. A decision has therefore been made to deliver UWindsor courses, including their final exams, primarily online in Fall 2020. This will include a continued focus on the strong faculty-student relationships, peer collaboration, and community service partnerships that have always been a hallmark of the UWindsor experience.

Decisions about the Winter 2021 semester will be made over the Fall semester, including determinations about how the second half of full-year courses will be offered.

The primarily virtual approach we have chosen offers students the most stable and flexible avenue for engaging with academic opportunities and new experiences during this uniquely challenging time.

UWindsor faculty and staff are busy preparing for the Fall semester, and we are looking forward to working with all of you. We will continue to offer high-quality engagement, teaching, and mentorship, and create environments where students are well supported, work with friends and colleagues, meet new people from across the street and around the world, and explore new ideas and opportunities.

As public health restrictions are relaxed, the University will explore possibilities for on-campus student life and co-curricular learning activities, with careful attention to all necessary safety protocols. Keeping health and safety as our primary consideration UWindsor will, where practical, encourage those planning such activities to provide a virtual option to allow maximum participation by all.

We recognize that you will have many questions about plans for the Fall semester, and more information will be available in the coming weeks. We know that this is important to you, and we will do our best to make sure you all receive clear, accurate information as it becomes available related to your program.

The Fall 2020 semester is but one chapter in our students’ overall story of their experience at UWindsor, a temporary detour in the full arc of their educational journey. We still have years together as teachers and learners! And one thing will not change: our commitment to providing the best education possible and to helping students succeed.

The next chapter awaits — let’s write it now! And when we’re on the far side of all this, we will look back and say that we did it together, at the University of Windsor.

Jared ColthurstFourth-year criminology student Jared Colthurst says it is important for men to be allies in the fight against sexual violence.

Bystander Initiative asking undergraduate men to get involved

Men are instrumental to the success of campus-wide efforts to prevent sexual violence, says Frankie Cachon, acting co-ordinator of the Bystander Initiative. A new campaign aims at signing them up for the cause.

“For far too long sexual violence has been thought of as strictly a women’s issue. We’re working hard to change this misperception,” Dr. Cachon says. “However, men are often reluctant to get involved — they may inaccurately perceive prevention efforts as ‘anti-male’ or blaming men; they may also fear that their masculinity will be called into question. Others care and want to help, but fear they are not welcome or are unsure how to get involved.”

The Bystander Initiative places male involvement in the prevention of violence against women as a foundational goal. The program focuses its educational efforts on student leadership in violence prevention education.

“In fact, women and men working together is one of the strengths of our program,” Cachon says. “Other notable strengths include our ‘whole of institution’ approach, our robust evidence-based programming, and our participatory, interactive, and skills-building curricular opportunities.”

Past and present students endorse the benefits of the program.

“I fell in love with the work and being a leader of social change,” says Jared Colthurst, a fourth-year criminology major. “As a man, I recognize how important it is to be an ally in the fight against sexual violence.”

Jordan Dekort, a recent graduate of the Odette School of Business, calls involvement with the Bystander Initiative a “highlight” of his university career.

“I really appreciated how the program helped me grow as a person,” he says.

Cachon hopes that the initiative’s recruitment efforts will encourage more men to enrol in Bystander courses. She hopes to spread awareness of the leadership and professional development opportunities offered by the Bystander Initiative.

“Men absolutely have an important role to play in addressing and challenging sexual violence,” she says. “We want to meaningfully engage male identified students in violence prevention efforts.”

Bystander courses are cross-listed and offered for credit as a general science, psychology, social work, sociology/criminology, or women’s and gender studies class. Participating students will not only receive the satisfaction of creating a safer campus community, Cachon says, they will also benefit from developing skills that are highly transferable to future employment opportunities: knowledge dissemination, leadership and advocacy skills, team building, and active listening.

Interested undergraduate students are encouraged to visit www.bystanderinitiaitve/participate/courses to complete an online application.

jars of pickled vegetablesThe May 2020 edition of “Workplace Wellness E-Digest” offers tips on fighting stress with food.

Newsletter addresses issues of eating

Well-nourished bodies can better weather intense periods of stress, notes the May 2020 edition of Workplace Wellness E-Digest.

Published by the Department of Human Resources’ Office of Employee Engagement and Development, the newsletter offers information on foods to incorporate into your diet to help you better cope with the physiological effects of stress.

It details healthy habits when it comes to snacking, and provides a menu planning tool as well as age-specific tips to get your kids cooking. Read the Workplace Wellness E-Digest.