Admittedly, I feel a little stupid. I'm staring at a diagram of a person with their head tilted back, aiming an hourglass device up their nose, and spraying a fine mist. The process looks every bit as graceful as using a neti pot or trimming nose hair.
But having talked to the Harvard scientist David Edwards who created this system, dubbed the FEND, I overcome my personal embarrassment. Because if it works as intended, this invention is groundbreaking. Edwards claims that if you take just two puffs with his device, you reduce your chance of exhaling COVID-19-filled droplets by 99% for six hours—which he validated over a series of studies with 92 people. In theory, it should make your own nose and throat more resistant to contracting COVID-19, too, by turning your throat into a sticky fly trap for the virus to keep it out of your lungs.
So I tilt my head back, and the device fires mist into the air. I breathe in deeply through my nose and—to my surprise, I actually do feel different within moments.
Let's take a few steps back for a moment. David Edwards is a Harvard researcher who, in 2004, was studying how to protect people from one of the most diabolical, airborne biological weapons of our time: anthrax.
Inside the mucus that lines our nose, mouth, and trachea, there are proteins called mucins. And what he noticed was that, when someone inhales a simple saline solution, the salt makes mucins more effective. It actually calms the surface of the mucus in our body. Technically speaking, calcium chloride (the salt) has two positive charges. Mucus proteins are negatively charged. So the calcium glues two mucus proteins together at the molecular level. Inside your body, that reaction increases the surface viscoelasticity in your mucus, which means that tiny droplets are less likely to break away.