April 14, 2020

The College of Engineering, Design and Computing jumped into action to support the needs of its faculty and students, who are not only keeping up with academics but also using their expertise and resources to help in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Dean Martin Dunn, PhD, said he is thrilled with how his students and faculty have quickly mobilized to make a remarkably positive impact to the pandemic.

“The scale and complexity of the crisis requires highly collaborative and cross-disciplinary efforts to bring our expertise in design, computing, and engineering to the table and partner with the public and private sector to address this ‘wicked problem’. This is in the DNA of our college,” Dunn said. “They have passionately contributed in many ways  outside of the curriculum, and they have also pivoted coursework in creative ways to contextualize learning and develop solutions. It is a testament to their creativity and passion and I could not be more proud.”

Inworks Denver and Anschutz Medical Campus Create Community of “Makers” 

Inworks Denver | Anschutz is an innovation initiative that draws together faculty, staff, and students from the CU Denver and Anschutz Medical campuses. Its members have led the charge in implementing the state and nationwide Make4Covid Community, comprised of makers, designers, industry experts, and healthcare professionals working together to rapidly support the urgent needs of healthcare workers and first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Inworks team has empowered the community through their leadership, strategy, mission, growth, finances, and execution,” said Kristin Wood, senior association dean of CEDC and interim director of Inworks. His team includes Monika Wittig (assoc. director for Anschutz Medical Campus), Katherine Goodman (assoc. director for the downtown campus), and innovative design, maker, and engineering staff members Andrew Henderson (lead organizer Make4Covid), Kelsie Faulds, Nicholas Jacobson, Hayden McClain, Jamison Griffith, and Aaron Treat.

Make4Covid brings together the knowledge and expertise of higher education institutes (CU Denver, CU Anschutz Medical Campus, CU Boulder, Red Rocks Community College), industry and manufacturing professionals (Respirogen, Plasticare, Prospect Life Sciences, Dassault Systemes), medical professionals (UC Health, CU Anschutz Medical Campus), individual makers, and others.

The goals are to 1) create systems with approved designs and methods for small-batch manufacturers and recruit “makers” in Colorado to produce face shields, face masks, and other personal protective gear during this time, and 2) enact those systems in response to the needs of Colorado medical professionals and first responders as quickly and as safely as possible. So far, 1,800 Make4Covid volunteers from universities and colleges, industrial businesses, and K-12 districts across the Front Range have delivered nearly 9,900 items of personal protective equipment (PPE) to areas throughout the region.

“Makers and people who want to help have been reaching out to them, but most medical professionals are not makers. They have needs, but no time to repeat these to all the people who want to help,” Andrew Henderson, an Inworks lab manager at CU Denver and lead organizer of Make4Covid, said in a media release. “Make4Covid is here to centralize the needs, remotely organize teams and systems and manufacture solutions. If you are maker, tinkerer, if you own a 3D printer, a laser cutter, or other manufacturing equipment, join our effort and help as a community.”

Faculty Startup Seeks Expedited Approval of Fast Disinfectant System 

Mark Golkowski, professor in the Electrical Engineering Department, co-founded and serves on the board of Sterifre Medical, a company that produces innovative disinfection and sterilization technology. His company is now working to fight the spread of coronavirus and other contagious pathogens by expediting the EPA approval of Aura, a rapid, automated device disinfection system that employs a patented application of hydrogen peroxide to create an environment that inactivates many multi-drug-resistant organisms.

“Expedited review by the EPA and an accelerated manufacturing schedule will allow Sterifre to play a role in reducing infections and allow for disinfection of critical medical supplies as well as common items like cell phones and tablets,” Golkowski said.  

The focus of Golkowski’s PhD and his primary research area is space physics. One of his reasons for joining CU Denver as a faculty member was the opportunity to branch out and use his expertise in plasmas to make a practical impact on human lives and his community, he said.

“This project has been inspiring and satisfying on many levels. We had the opportunity to use cutting edge techniques to explore complex biochemistry and work with a wide array of experts in Colorado,” Golkowski said. “At the end of the day, we have a very practical device that can treat everyday items and keep us all safer and healthy.”

Split Ventilator Research and Testing Collaboration Addresses Shortage

UCHealth has partnered with private enterprise and public education institutions, including CU Denver’s Bioengineering Department, to increase ventilator capacity through manufacturing and testing. The collaborators are working on designing solutions that put multiple patients on a single ventilator, which could help address the shortage of ventilators for people fighting the coronavirus. Computer simulations led by assistant professor and expert in pulmonary bioengineering Bradford Smith, PhD, in collaboration with Vitaly Kheyfets and Steven Lammers, are improving our understanding of ventilator performance and safety under these challenging conditions. 

“We have been working with clinicians from all over the world to vet ideas and keep a pulse on the need while thinking about scalability issues,” said Jennifer Wagner, an instructor in the Department of Bioengineering. “Additionally, we are investigating the effects of having different respiratory characteristics on air flows. For example, COVID-19 causes some peoples’ lungs to be ‘stiffer’ than others, and the air flow could reverse if not properly matched.” 

Their model is being validated using ventilators and test lungs in conjunction with UCHealth’s Clinical Engineering and Respiratory Therapy teams. They are working on design ideas to help balance the flow between patients and generate guidelines for whom might possibly share a ventilator, Wagner said.

Testing is being done at UCHealth on the Anschutz campus, with parallel efforts underway elsewhere. Collaborators include Red Rocks Community College, theUniversity of Colorado Hospital, the University of Colorado Denver Department of Bioengineering, the Boulder-based technology company Respirogen, the University of Colorado Boulder Department of Mechanical Engineering, and the University of Colorado School of Medicine Anesthesiology, Psychiatry, Medicine, and Surgery teams. These highly-collaborative partnerships with diverse stakeholders are a key characteristic of the College of Engineering, Design and Computing’s strategy.

Bioengineering Professor Leads Students in Mask Making Effort 

Inworks and CU Denver’s Bioengineering Department are utilizing Inworks’ space at 14th and Larimer Streets to manufacture protective face shields and masks, and students and faculty from across the college are designing and testing the products at the Anschutz Medical Campus.

One of those faculty members is Chelsea Magin, PhD, assistant professor of bioengineering and pulmonary sciences and critical care medicine at CU Denver. Before she became an engineer, she was a maker, she said. “My aunt taught me how to sew on my grandmother’s 1940s Kenmore sewing machine when I was in middle school,” Magin said. When she heard that her colleagues working in the ICU at National Jewish Health needed sewing experts to design masks that would be approved by their occupational health team, Magin saw it as an opportunity to use her unique skillset to help our healthcare workers in this time of crisis, she said.

Dr. Patricia George at National Jewish Health requested assistance designing the personal protective equipment, and Magin agreed to help sew and organize a group of sewers, designers, and other volunteers. Together, they worked to make and test approximately 10 different mask designs before scaling up a final version. They created a pattern and instructions, as well as videos, showing how to make and use the masks. 

The final design was created by Marilou Goodwin, who is married to Sheard Goodwin, director of Operations and Infrastructure for the CU Denver and Anschutz Medical Campus Office of Information Technology. Now, they are working with students and collaborators to make and test the masks.

“Involving our engineering students in mask production and testing provides them with experience quickly using everything they’ve learned in the classroom to respond to a real-life challenge,” Magin said. “It’s easy to see the motivation for our work and connect the results with an impact.”

Bioengineering Launches Rapid Test Facility for PPE

The Bioengineering department, led by Distinguished Professor Robin Shandas, has rapidly responded to support Colorado’s innovation response to set up a test facility. Shandas and Jennifer Wagner, an instructor in the Department of Bioengineering, helped set up a lab in Bioscience 2 to test face masks for usability, biocompatibility, cleanability, flammability, resistance to splash, and impact strength.  They derived test protocols from recognized standards and clinical guidelines, and they have provided concise reports to local manufacturers and the statewide COVID-19 task force to help assess the various options. 

Bioengineering Faculty Support Communities in Guatemala

For the last two summers, Bioengineering Instructor Casey Howard has taken a class of students in her CU in the City Bioengineering Design Hack for Health course to Guatemala to work with populations to develop sustainable solutions. This year, when Engineers Without Borders reached out to engineering deans looking for help with producing personal protective equipment (PPE), Dean Dunn immediately thought of Howard, knowing she has worked before in the communities in need.

Today, the college’s global health engineering students are working with the Colorado School of Public Health’s Center for Global Health to develop low-resource PPE solutions for communities in Guatemala.