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Research during the COVID-19 crisis

From studies on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on society to masks, vaccines and immunity – a great deal of research was conducted at the ZHAW to deal with the pandemic.

Many ZHAW students worried about completing their semester due to the impact of COVID-19. Many of them also lost their jobs during the lockdown and felt socially isolated. This was revealed by a survey of ZHAW students that was conducted on a regular basis by the ZHAW School of Health Professions. After the lockdown was lifted, however, the subjective quality of life among the Swiss population generally improved once again and the precautionary measures were largely followed, as was shown by the COVID-19 Social Monitor from the ZHAW School of Management and Law and the University of Zurich, which continuously investigates the pandemic’s impact on the health and lives of the entire Swiss population. These are but two examples of the considerable amount of work conducted by ZHAW researchers who reacted quickly to the new situation and who made – and continue to make – an important contribution to research on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pulse of the pandemic

Another ZHAW study revealed that there is a great deal of scepticism towards COVID-19 apps. The main reasons for not installing such apps are concerns about data privacy, imperceptible benefits and a lack of interest. Further studies from the ZHAW School of Management and Law addressed the economic situation of the travel industry, e-commerce and SMEs. The ZHAW School of Health Professions wanted to know how many students had already developed antibodies against the virus, if digital tools could help fight against social isolation and if working from home would lead to more neck problems. The last of the three studies concluded that even though in many cases the work environment at home offers worse ergonomic conditions than in the office, neck problems have not increased.

Travelling safely

Researchers at the ZHAW School of Engineering wanted to know how working from home affects everyday life, mobility, and energy consumption. They also investigated what effect the reduction of air travel and car trips during the lockdown had on air quality and what role public transportation played in the spread of COVID-19. To estimate the actual individual risk of infection, the researchers modelled the impact of masks, distancing rules and good ventilation in public transport or train stations. Since masks provide important protection against airborne transmission, another group of researchers investigated how well ceramic aerosol filters are suited for this purpose and how to optimise them.

Virus in the laboratory

Researchers at the ZHAW laboratories in Wädenswil chose another approach to viral protection. Together with the Swiss company Osmotex AG, they developed a self-disinfecting mask that inactivates viruses at the touch of a button. The prototype of this one-of-a-kind mask is made from electrochemical textiles and has an antiviral effect of more than 99%. Using this innovative electrochemical technology, viruses can be rendered harmless not only passively but also actively.

In addition, researchers at the ZHAW School of Life Sciences and Facility Management in Wädenswil collaborated with the Bern University Hospital and Saiba Biontech to develop a production process that makes it possible to produce a COVID-19 vaccine in larger quantities and as quickly as possible. Vaccine production was optimised by using appropriate bacterial strains. At the same time, numerous experiments were conducted in bioreactors to establish the best possible means of production. This is because it is challenging to develop optimal production conditions to produce large quantities of high-quality vaccines.