Mississippi State mechanical engineering students have turned a conventional truck toolbox into a device that will sterilize face masks for the university’s John C. Longest Student Health Center staff.
A team of two students, under the leadership of researchers at MSU’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems, built and tested the device before delivering it to the health center on Monday, April 13. Built using low-cost materials, the device can sterilize 15-20 masks in minutes, filling a need for the health center during the COVID-19 pandemic and a nationwide shortage of masks.
“It’s a great application of what we learn in school because there’s not always a standard solution,” said Ryden Smith, a mechanical engineering graduate student from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. “I’ve been really honored with the opportunity to work on this and help our healthcare providers.”
Working with Smith on the project is Wesley Cameron, a senior mechanical engineering major from Richton. He said the team looked at established healthcare sterilization protocols and studies on UV light’s effects on N95 masks to design the device and determine best practices.
Dr. Cliff Story, MSU director of University Health Services, reached out to campus officials to see if someone at the university could build a sterilization device to help the center get more use out of its masks amid a nationwide shortage.
“We didn’t really have a way to sanitize masks other than to put them in a paper bag and store them for about three weeks, assuming that the virus would die during that time,” Story said. “Adding this sterilization process to the storage solution only makes us more confident in our supply. It’s awesome that the team at CAVS was able to build this. I’m really excited about this, as are the other doctors in the clinic.”
The students at CAVS worked under the direction of Associate Director Hongjoo Rhee’s research team and were encouraged and aided by CAVS staff including Purchasing Coordinator Andrea Hemmingway Oakley, Research Engineer Jennie Maddox and Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Wil Whittington.
Whittington explained that while using UV light to sanitize medical gear is not new, large hospitals often have a single room dedicated to UV sterilization. Portable UV sterilizers are available, but they cost hundreds of dollars and are much smaller than the device his students made using a toolbox.
“There are a lot of smaller health facilities like the Longest Student Health Center and nursing homes that don’t have the real estate to dedicate an entire room to this, so having something that can be put in a room but is still large enough to handle a large volume of masks can be helpful,” Whittington said. “We talked about retrofitting a closet for this, but the students came up with the idea of retrofitting a toolbox, which can just be placed in a room without having to change a room to provide the aluminum reflectivity you need.”
The CAVS team will work with health center staff this week to determine protocols and best practices for using the device. They plan to share the design specifications so other health care centers can have similar devices made and extend the lifespan of their personal protective equipment.