UConn Engineering and Industry Align to Fight COVID-19

UConn hand sanitizer is being produced by the Center for Applied Separations Technology at the UConn Tech Park.


By: Eli Freund, Editorial Communications Manager, UConn School of Engineering

In the face of a global pandemic, the University, the state and the world were faced with the realities of shutting down. Not only that, the whole healthcare community was faced with the daunting task of stepping up to the front lines and fighting back against a disease that has caused dire shortages of necessary supplies and equipment.

When faced with a challenging problem, though, it’s often the job of an engineer to come in and find a solution. Throughout the past couple of months, UConn Engineering faculty, staff, and students have used their knowledge to aid the healthcare industry, the state of Connecticut, and local businesses as we look to eradicate COVID-19 and bring our economy back to life.

One of those stories comes from Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Professor Jeff McCutcheon. McCutcheon runs the Center for Applied Separations Technology at the UConn Tech Park, and started working on many different helpful projects—but none more impactful than his work in creating a low-cost, easily reproduceable ventilator. Whitcraft Group– the aerospace parts maker in Eastford – answered the Governor’s call for help with respirators. They had an idea on how to make an inexpensive, quickly produced, efficient machines. When they needed outside expertise, they called UConn Engineering – colleagues they knew.

Other activity happening in the UConn Tech Park came from the efforts of Joseph Luciani, who is the director of our Proof of Concept Center. The mission of the Proof of Concept Center is to work with local manufacturers on integrating 3D printing into their manufacturing and also work with them to improve processes, but when COVID-19 shut down the state, and personal protective equipment was in short supply, Luciani jumped into action by using our 3D printers to create 150-200 face shields for our frontline workers at UConn Health.

Some of our students also joined in the work to support our frontline workers, with a couple of our students leading an initiative called The Ventilator Project, an all-volunteer organization based in Boston.  Noah Pacik-Nelson ’20 and Justin Schroder ’20 are both leading a team that is designing an emergency ventilator that can support a COVID-19 patient for as long as they need to be ventilated, usually a span of 11 to 21 days. The ventilator they are producing employs a motor that compresses a bellow system in a controlled fashion.

Near the end of the semester, our seniors also presented their Senior Design projects virtually—an effort that encompasses nearly 900 students completing 250 Senior Design Projects. These students solved real-world with real sponsors that run the gamut from large to small, including: City of Hartford, the Connecticut Department of Transportation, the Town of Wethersfield, Pratt & Whiney, Electric Boat, and ThayerMahan. Every year, the students present their projects in spacious Gampel Pavillion, but this year, the faculty and staff rallied together to create the School’s first Virutal Senior Design Demonstration Day.

Lastly, in an effort to give our graduating seniors more options, the School launched the 2020 Springboard Graduate Scholarship. This unique piece of financial aid, for full-time applicants who meet all graduate school requirements, reduces out-of-pocket expenses for a Master’s of Engineering degree by 65%, for up to one calendar year. The decision to offer this to our seniors was a combined response from our faculty and leadership to immediately give back, especially in an hour of lost experiences and hardship. The added engineering knowledge from this degree will be a leg-up for both students and Connecticut’s industry.

These are just a handful of stories from the past few months, but the School is working hard for our students and our state during this difficult time. For more stories on the School’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and our impact on industry and the State of Connecticut, please visit news.engr.uconn.edu.

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