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1st Meeting of the 200th Session (2020-2021)

The Physics of COVID-19 transmission and disinfection: what we don't know!

Professor Wilson Poon, FRSE, FInstP

Professor Wilson Poon, FRSE, FInstP

Professor Wilson Poon FRSE FInstP
Professor of Natural Philosophy
The University of Edinburgh

On Monday 28th September 2020, at 7pm

Coronavirus diseases 2019 (COVID-19) has focussed global attention on science and technology. While much of the necessary response must come from biomedicine and biotechnology, the physical sciences and engineering are also needed in a holistic approach to combating this and any future respiratory viral pandemic. In this domain, much of the relevant science concerns 'goo physics' (technically, 'soft matter physics'), which studies 'liquids with bits'. I will briefly introduce 'goo physics' and then proceed to show that answers to many of the questions the world needs answers for to fight COVID-19 lies in the domain of the goo physicist: from the way viruses survive outside the body, to the many ways and substances we may use to disinfect our environment. In many, if not the majority, of cases, the necessary systematic research has not yet been done. The challenge of the 'goo physics of COVID-19' is therefore open, and urgent.

Wilson Poon was educated at Cambridge University, and have spent all but one year of his academic career at Edinburgh University, where he leads experimental research on soft matter physics, where, since 2016, he holds one of the most ancient chairs of the University, that of Natural Philosophy. He particularly enjoy working with industry, where practical questions often inspire new fundamental science, and fundamental science inspired by one area of application can find surprising application in a different area. A good example is his work on the flow of high-solid-content suspension of particles, where the same physics turns out to be applicable to understanding chocolate manufacturing and the extrusion of ceramic pastes for catalytic converters. Prof Poon also teaches and researches in the relation between science and Christian theology, and is also working on a book on the provenance of a particularly beautiful medieval prayer book (a 'book of hours') in Edinburgh University Library.