September 23, 2020 - Podcast

Episode 36—Racial justice, copper face masks, and pandemic giving

Tackling pandemics new and old, Indiana University is investing in additional racial justice research and is creating a task force to address the negative impact COVID-19 has had on female researchers at IU. The university is funding 31 research projects exploring racial bias issues, including the pandemic's impact on Black-owned businesses, a partnership with school districts to encourage racial justice youth activism, storytelling to heal racial trauma and other critical topics. The projects are funded with support from IU's Racial Justice Research Fund. The task force will examine actionable solutions to the burdens women have faced within the research context.

In other news, in the ongoing fight against COVID-19, IUPUI experts are recommending an expanded use of copper to reduce the virus's spread. Jing Zhang of the School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI and a team of researchers are using a copper coating on 3D-printed plastic filters to create more efficient masks and respirators. Zhang says a previous study found a copper alloy can kill 58 percent of infections, and the fact that copper plating is used to cover some frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs and elevator buttons inspired him to see how he could combine what looks like an almost magic metal into a mask design. Zhang looked at the gills on fish to help find a structure that blocks out tiny aerosol particles while also providing proper ventilation for breathing. In the prototype, a ring with V-shape "fins" increases the surface area where air passes through more channels. Fellow researchers are continuing to look at how copper ions deactivate the function of the virus. Zhang says because copper is reusable and easy to clean, very affordable, and environmentally friendly, the design could be used on a daily basis while also being applied to other systems, such as air vent filters in buildings and on airplanes.

In addition to protecting ourselves from the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are also looking for ways to help their neighbors. A new report from IU’s Women’s Philanthropy Institute found that even with all of the economic insecurity of the coronavirus recession, people in the U.S. continue to donate money. Researchers surveyed 3,405 people in the general population in mid-May of this year. They found that as COVID-19 descended on the U.S. and began closing businesses, schools and community centers, 56 percent of U.S. households engaged in charitable giving to help their neighbors through the crisis. Additionally, one-third of U.S. households gave money directly to charitable organizations, other individuals or businesses. That’s similar to previous disasters, according to the report. But while people are giving, it’s not just direct charitable contributions that made a difference, the report notes. People responded to the crisis in unique ways. Almost half engaged in charitable giving indirectly such as ordering takeout from local restaurants, purchasing gift cards from their favorite boutiques or continuing to pay for services, like a housecleaning or day care, that they were unable to use during shelter-in-place orders. Researchers say while that type of indirect giving wouldn’t typically be considered charity, in the time of coronavirus, it has been a lifeline for some small businesses and service workers. Jeannie Sager, Women’s Philanthropy Institute director, says people became more aware of the needs of their community members, and they wanted to help their neighbors and local businesses through the downturn. While Sager is optimistic about the future of philanthropy, she also notes that this is an unprecedented and enduring crisis. On top of the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, the presidential election and the West coast wildfires will complicate the full picture of 2020 and how people prioritize their charitable giving.