As my school ended in-person classes and my dinner table conversation became consumed with pandemic fears, I tried to channel my energy into doing something productive. As a person who has always been fascinated by nanotechnology -- the manipulation of matter at an extremely small scale -- I believed it could be used to potentially protect Americans from spreading the virus further.
After watching frontline workers make calls for more effective masks and hearing the struggles of health care professionals directly, I realized the great need for a lightweight mask that covers all orifices of the face. So, I began considering concepts I learned in my school's nanotechnology club and chemistry class, as well as reviewing several research articles from scientific journals. Several weeks later, I developed the idea for a nitrogen-doped graphene mask.
Though it has never been done before, the concept of a nitrogen-doped graphene mask isn't all that radical. On its own, graphene, which is a single-layered allotrope of carbon, is impermeable -- such that even a helium atom cannot pass through. However, when graphene is doped with nitrogen, some carbon bonds are broken in the graphene, thus opening up nanoscopic pores. These pores selectively allow oxygen to come in, theoretically making graphene masks breathable, yet acting as a barrier to Covid-19 particles, which are bigger than oxygen atoms.
While the possibility of manufacturing my mask -- assuming it proved to be medically sound -- at a scale necessary to combat the virus might be challenging, my hope is that my idea inspires others to think creatively about ways to tackle Covid-19. In particular, I hope it inspires my fellow Gen Z peers to recognize that we don't always need to turn to adults for the answers -- we may have a few of our own, too. And one of those ideas could save a life.
Parnika Saxena is a high school junior at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Virginia.
College senior Alexis Day: When in doubt, turn to TikTok
Like millions of students across the country, my spring semester was interrupted by the pandemic. After quickly saying my goodbyes to my fellow classmates and professors at the University of San Diego, I found myself on a drive through the desert to Las Vegas, my hometown.
As my university worked to set up a virtual classroom system, I suddenly had some extra time on my hands. In an effort to not spend all of it scrolling through Instagram and bemoaning the many missed senior moments -- from graduation to department recognitions to senior week parties -- I tried to find a medium that could both speak to my disappointment and offer a brief reprieve from the chaos of the pandemic.
Enter TikTok, a platform that shares staged video clips of people or events in a minute or less.
And, after two months at home, I have made a few TikToks myself -- though I have only shared them with my closest friends and family. They've ranged from light-hearted skits or collaborations with friends to really poor attempts at learning viral dances.
TikTok groups high school and college seniors under "Class of 2020," so when I search for recent content, I see quite a range of stories -- and watching high school students several years my junior expressing their roller-coaster of emotions, but with their signature teenage sarcasm, makes me feel a bit more youthful and energized. In other words, even if I am physically isolated, I'm not alone in my experience -- and these days that virtual connection is priceless.
Alexis Day is a recent graduate of the University of San Diego, majoring in political science and communication studies.
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