Contribute meaningfully: Engineers collaborating with university, community to fight COVID-19

May 12th, 2020

By Jackey Locke and Jeff Green

From left are the Hibernia EOR Research Group working on PPE Saeed Jafari Sofla, Shervin Ayazi, Norah Hyndman, Maziyar Mahmoodi, Fatemeh Goodarzi, Edison Sripal and Dr. Lesley James. Photo submitted.
Contribute meaningfully: Engineers collaborating with university, community to fight COVID-19

When it comes to battling the spread of COVID-19, engineers at Memorial are putting their expertise – and time – to work.

When Dr. Kelly Hawboldt heard that disinfectant soap was needed to combat the spread of COVID-19, the processing engineering professor volunteered her time to consult and advise on the chemical compatibilities of soaps and disinfectants on a number of committees.

“Being involved highlighted to me that we have many talented people in our province who are willing to give their time to help find “made in N.L.” solutions to COVID-related issues,” she said. “I hope we can build on this to develop and grow more manufacturing in Newfoundland and Labrador. We have the ability and the desire.”

And when a request looking for personal protective equipment (PPE) testing came in, Dr. Lesley James, a petroleum engineering professor, says the Hibernia Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) Research Group got involved.

The research group has some of the equipment, skills and experience to quickly adapt, so it took on the challenge.

The Hibernia EOR Research Group and the Department of Technical Services joined forces with Eastern Health, the N.L. Provincial Public Health Laboratory and Memorial’s Faculty of Medicine.

The partnership formed through Memorial’s involvement in TaskforceNL, which has volunteer business and community leaders helping to provide PPE for frontline health-care workers during the pandemic.

The team is helping to ensure that materials used for surgical face masks and medical gowns meet recognized safety standards by repurposing equipment in Dr. James’ EOR Laboratory combined with other borrowed Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science equipment.

Other equipment components are being designed and fabricated in the Department of Technical Services.

Dr. James says engineers Rick Meaney, Dennis Cramm and Jennifer Murray and other Technical Services employees “cannot be given enough credit” for their contributions in designing and fabricating components for the testing.

“Their ability to design and fabricate custom components is second to none. With substantial cost and time savings, Memorial’s testing efforts are at the forefront nationally.”

“We are relying on the respective strengths of the team and following required standardized testing, recognized experimental methodology and past experiences with quality assurance to ensure the masks and gowns meet Health Canada standards,” said Dr. James. “I am incredibly proud of the team’s efforts, their motivation and desire to get involved.”

The Hibernia EOR Research Group will test PPE, including masks and gowns, for the next three to six months, possibly longer since there are only a few laboratories in the country capable of conducting the specialized form of required testing.

Dr. James added that funding agencies, including the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and Springboard Atlantic (through Memorial’s Technology Transfer and Commercialization Office) have generously stepped up to help pay for equipment and personnel to ensure that any locally manufactured PPE meets the testing criteria.

‘Real and pressing need’

Rick Meaney, director, Technical Services, a unit within the vice-president (research) portfolio, says his staff are delighted to collaborate with Dr. James and the EOR lab.

Mr. Meaney says his unit has the facilities and competent, skilled staff to quickly develop Computer Aided Design files and to fabricate custom facilities for testing.

“Given the urgency of the situation and a need to address the supply challenges, quick responses are required,” he said.

“Our staff members see how their efforts are contributing to a real and pressing need in the province. I am very proud of our team.”

For Dr. James, the most rewarding part of the experience is being able to contribute to helping keep health-care professionals safe.

“As engineers it’s important to contribute meaningfully to the community and to be able to help out during these uncertain times,” she said. “With the right attitude and the right people, I believe anything is possible.”

Jackey Locke is a communications advisor with the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. She can be reached at jackey.locke@mun.ca.

Jeff Green is a senior communications advisor with the Office of the Vice-President (Research). He can be reached at jeffg@mun.ca.

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