Indoor Air Quality
Q&A: Edward Sobek on the Science of Indoor Air Quality
Since 2008, Global Plasma Solutions (GPS) has been the industry leader in indoor air quality (IAQ), delivering clean indoor air solutions that are safe and effective.
Building on its commitment to science and its dedication to continuous technological advancements, GPS hired Edward Sobek, PhD, as its first chief science officer (CSO). In this unique position, Dr. Sobek plays a pivotal role in advancing research on the company’s patented needlepoint bipolar ionization (NPBI®) technology and real-world applications. His hire is just the latest example of how GPS continues to innovate and evolve in the IAQ market.
We talked with Dr. Sobek about his experience, his commitment to driving innovation in the IAQ space, and how GPS leads with science in a competitive, fast-moving market.
Can you share a little about your background?
ES: I’m a microbiologist specializing in microbial detection and decontamination. That means I not only detect microbes but also determine the root cause of contamination and develop effective solutions.
In my work, I discovered that traditional or legacy technologies don’t always work as advertised. That’s why I started researching ionization. I was excited to learn about GPS’ NPBI technology. It’s effective at tackling microbes and inactivating certain pathogens.
Is chief science officer a unique position for companies in the ionization space?
ES: It’s very unique. Most companies in this space lack either the capacity or the knowledge to put a scientist in the driver’s seat. But GPS is committed to rigorous testing as well as educating people on the technology — how it works and what it means. There are a lot of products out there, but there’s also a lot of confusion. Historically, the industry hasn’t given people the information they need to make the best decisions about IAQ and indoor air solutions.
What are some of your key responsibilities as chief science officer?
ES: GPS leads through science, and I’m here to take a company that’s already on the forefront in that regard to the next level.
This includes doing field experiments to show the efficacy of NPBI. It’s also about education on challenges and solutions, and helping people understand what differentiates NPBI from other ionization products. For example, NPBI yields high ion levels without producing dangerous byproducts, like harmful ozone.
I’m also leading the newly formed GPS scientific advisory council, which includes experts in fields like physics, toxicology and virology. This group will play a chief role in informing GPS technology and product development as well as directing the company’s research.
How does needlepoint bipolar ionization work?
ES: NPBI generates ions that form bonds with particles in indoor spaces, making them more easily filtered out of the air by a building’s HVAC system.
The technology also alters the protective layer of lipid (fat) surrounding protein molecules such as SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Viruses need their naturally occurring lock-and-key design to survive. When certain viruses come into contact with positively and negatively charged ions, their outer envelope is damaged, essentially inactivating them.
How quickly does NPBI inactivate pathogens?
ES: It depends on the pathogen. Current pathogen testing results are published on our website. Conceptually, ions have to make contact with pathogens for the process to begin — so, in theory, the more ions in the space and the longer the exposure, the better.
Large-chamber testing on SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) that we commissioned with Innovative Bioanalysis Labs demonstrated this point. NPBI immediately began inactivating SARS-CoV-2. After an hour, the amount of active virus in the air was reduced by more than 90%.
Meanwhile, GPS continues to partner with third-party labs and universities to conduct controlled experiments. This work furthers our understanding of how NPBI reduces SARS-CoV-2 and other pathogens.
What about NPBI’s ion production?
GPS products produce anywhere from 2,000 to more than 40,000 ions per cubic centimeter (cc). The actual increase in ions per cc that can be expected to reach the occupied space depends on several factors (e.g., direct or indirect path, length of path and air velocity).
NPBI technology doesn’t produce harmful ozone. Is that a unique benefit?
ES: Yes. Unlike competing products on the market today, NPBI technology developed by GPS Founder and Chief Technology Officer Charlie Waddell allows us to reach high ion levels in a space without creating harmful ozone.
How has COVID-19 changed the way people think about indoor air quality?
ES: Before the pandemic, the focus was on things like energy savings, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and odor control. But today, pathogen control is a top concern.
We’ll get through the COVID-19 crisis, but increased awareness about IAQ is here to stay — and that’s a good thing. Think about it: Even when we’re no longer concerned about the coronavirus, many will probably still wear masks and carry hand sanitizer during cold and flu season, because who likes being sick? Meanwhile, there could be another pandemic, and we need to be prepared.