3 billion people fly on a plane each year. That's a lot of germs.
Been sneezed on recently? Of course you have.
Whether you realize it or not, those suckers can travel. All of those coughs, sneezes, and sniffles that are constantly happening around you (or that you're doing yourself!) don't care much for boundaries. Your immune system is always fair game.
When Raymond Wang was 15 years old, he got to thinking about how those kinds of germs travel.
The teen from Vancouver didn't have much of a choice; in late 2014, the news was covered in germs.
"I remember sitting on the couch and listening to the news and people constantly talking about two things: airplanes and the Ebola outbreak," Raymond recalled over the phone.
We can all relate to that. The 24-hour news cycle was obsessed with Ebola: the graphic scenes, the lives lost, the explanations of just how contagious it was, and basically anything else that scared the living bejeezus out of people.
The fear of air travel is what really struck a chord with Raymond.
"After hearing Ebola news time and time again, I thought maybe I should try to do something to look into the problem. Searching online, it turns out you come across various statistics of people getting sick on airplanes."
Disease transmission on planes can have a big effect. Like with H1N1...
That's a serious problem – especially when it comes to keeping disease and sickness contained.
Not being your average teenager, Raymond got to work on how to find a solution to reduce the spread of germs on planes.
And he succeeded.
"I didn't have money to go out and buy a plane, so I decided to build a computer instead," he said in his TED Youth talk. (I told you he's not your average teenager.)
He created simulations of how air currently flows and mixes around in an airplane. This is what he discovered happens when someone sneezes:
Yes, you can take a minute to reflect on how gross and in-your-face that is. And then you can see how much better a teenager can make it.
He invented a small, fin-shaped device that can reduce pathogen inhalation by up to 55 times and improve fresh air delivery by 190%.
It could change the way we breathe on planes forever by changing airflow for the entire cabin.
It's what he calls a "patent-pending global inlet director," and it's a super-simple concept when you see how it works.
The device can be installed into existing spots in the overhead area of an airplane cabin, so it's easy. And it's cheap too. It works by creating personalized breathing zones from above by pushing air down instead of out, like the current system does.
So whereas a sneeze before would have spread out from head level, a sneeze with the director in place would be pushed down and filtered out before it could reach seat neighbors.
"A lot of the focus on planes is geared toward optimizing the exterior of airplanes," he says. "I wanted to optimize the cabin experience for passengers and flight crew. For people who are working on flights every day, this is a health and safety issue for them."
Raymond hopes to get the device on the market soon and has been busy pitching it at science and aviation conferences. He's seen a lot of positive feedback on it. And honestly, what's not to like?
As we've seen, disease outbreaks can come on very quickly and unexpectedly. Every little bit helps in the fight against them, and it's inspiring to see simple solutions that can make a big impact on our health and safety.
It just happens to be even cooler when the solutions come from people who haven't even graduated high school yet. Nice work, Raymond!
You can see more on his efforts in this great TED Talk: