In the face of a pandemic, we see countless individuals helping on the front lines. Medical personnel and emergency responders are working hard to meet medical demand and keep residents safe. On top of that, communities are coming together, various groups looking for ways they can offer help.
Engineers have their role to play as well. In an official statement on COVID-19, the National Society of Professional Engineers said the following:
“Professional engineers play a vital role in society, but often behind the scenes. They design, construct, and maintain the critical infrastructure that keeps the US moving—water, power, transportation, to name just a few. And they keep us healthy through their work in areas like medical facilities, agriculture, and biomedical engineering. We extend our gratitude for their technical expertise, problem-solving ability, and ethical commitment.”
Globally, the assistance of engineers at this time is vital. The stories linked below provide a small overview of how engineers around the world have been using their skills for the good of the global community.
In Italy, when a hospital near the town of Brescia faced a shortage of respirator valves, engineers at a local startup 3D printed one hundred valves and delivered them to the hospital, where physicians were able to use them to continue treating patients with respiratory difficulties related to COVID-19.
A team of chemical and biological engineers in Hong Kong has developed a new antimicrobial polymer coating “that is effective in killing viruses, bacteria and even hard-to-kill spores.” The coating has proven effective against viruses that are even more resilient than coronaviruses such as COVID-19.
The research of a Mechanical Engineering professor at Purdue proved valuable in early studies of COVID-19 when the world considered the concerns of viral spread on cruise ships. Professor Qingyan Chen specializes in the spread of air-borne pathogens in passenger vehicles; he and his team have developed models that help track the way viruses spread in vehicles such as aircraft cabins. According to Purdue, “Chen’s lab is currently developing a ventilation system that would prevent the spread of pathogens by allowing each person to breathe in only his or her own air.”
An engineer in Mexico designed isolation pods to be used for transporting patients infected with COVID-19, implementing a method that would seal the patient off from contact with others while still being able to breathe, providing a way to shield medical workers from the virus while getting patients to a medical facility for care.
Hospitals in Wuhan, China, as well as Bangkok, Thailand, have been able to staff hospital wards with robots to minimize contact between people, decreasing opportunities for the virus to spread. Robots have been able to take incoming patients’ temperature to alert hospital staff of any fevers, deliver food and medicine, and even provide entertainment by dancing for patients.
The work of engineers underlies the routine parts of life we take for granted as well as providing support and solutions in times of crisis. We are grateful to those working in the forefront and in the background as we all figure out a way through this time.