Scientists pivot to pitch in on coronavirus

Many scientists have taken on extra work loads during the pandemic. Here a chemist, a publisher and an infectious disease expert reveal their efforts.

2 July 2020

Andy Tay

skaman306/Getty Images

Scientists are volunteering their expertise to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Nature Index spoke to three researchers about how they are helping to stem the spread of COVID-19, beyond their regular research work.

Helping hands

Venkatnarayan Ramanathan, assistant professor of chemistry, Indian Institutes of Technology (Banaras Hindu University)

There was a shortage of hand sanitizer in India and further afield, and prices are high. With the support from my institute, my colleagues and I made hand sanitizer based on World Health Organization guidelines of the using iso-propanol, hydrogen peroxide, and glycerol.

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Venkatnarayan Ramanathan

The first batch of 35 litres was used in a single day after it was distributed to students and staff at my institute. The City Commissioner took note of this, and we have since scaled up the process to produce almost 500 litres of hand sanitizer, which have been distributed to places including the police station and city municipal offices.

I hope that, through this collective effort, we can educate one another about the importance of serving society as scientists.

Drawing lessons

Dale Fisher, professor of infectious diseases, National University of Singapore

My team in NUS and I wanted to cut through the noise and communicate to the public about the pandemic in a simple, easy way: we felt like cartoons were a good way to do that.

My team and I work with a cartoonist to create the ‘COVID chronicles’, which we publish several times a week.

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Dale Fisher

I first got involved in the idea of creating cartoons when the health minister in Singapore, Gan Kim Yong, asked for my help in communicating to the public, as it is not ideal that they only hear from politicians and ministry officials.

Once the team and I decide on the cartoon contents, we do extensive research beforehand to understand the public’s sentiments. For example, there are great concerns over when vaccines will become available. We created a cartoon to address why vaccine development takes so much time before manufacture and distribution.

There are many confusing messages regarding the use of certain products and drugs to prevent and cure COVID-19. I hope to share scientifically accurate information in Singapore and around the world.

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The COVID Chronicles

Parsing papers

Samantha Hindle, neuroscientist and content lead, bioRxiv

With more than 9,000 preprints already posted, and an increasing number being submitted to platforms like bioRxiv and medRxiv, identifying and highlighting meaningful information from preprints can be challenging.

To address the problem, I helped establish a way for scientists to share their expertise by reviewing and rating COVID-19 preprints, which would bring the best papers to the forefront.

alt Samantha Hindle. Credit: Eric Kornblum

When I am not managing the content at bioRxiv and medrxiv, I volunteer at two new scientist-led initiatives designed to help readers better understand the implications and limitations of COVID-19 preprints.

One is the PREreview platform, which aims to empower early career researchers to participate more widely in preprint reviews, and to help build a new generation of diverse peer reviewers.

The other is Outbreak Science Rapid PREreview (OSrPRE), which offers a quick, accessible review form that researchers can use to rate the scientific rigor of preprints.

I believe that research should be freely available and shared with the global community in a timely manner. This is especially important during this pandemic where the pace of dissemination needs to keep up with the pace of discoveries.

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