FEAS alumni rise to the challenge of COVID-19

Posted on April 22, 2020

FEAS alumni Mike Lipsett
FEAS alumni Mike Lipsett (BSc’84, PhD’95)

While Queen’s engineering faculty and students have been busy working on the Code Life Ventilator Challenge, our alumni have also been active, providing innovative solutions for those stricken with the coronavirus, and helping to protect our front-line workers as they care for others.

Mike Lipsett (BSc’84, PhD’95) has been working with a team at the University of Alberta to support Alberta Health Services as they address the COVID-19 challenge, working with ICU doctors and other healthcare professionals on a range of equipment.  Their work includes the development of a low-cost ventilator that’s simple to replicate and could potentially save lives, as well as a higher-end ventilator that can be manufactured in Western Canada to meet the current pandemic need.

Similar to the ‘iron lung’ used during the polio pandemic of the 1950s, the ventilator reduces the pressure around a body to help a patient breathe. “My colleague had the initial idea of a simple negative pressure ventilator, and I pursued the idea of a low-cost model that could be recreated in places where standard equipment is not available,” says Mike. “It’s somewhat lucky that our labs are closed, as it has forced us to look at simple options, and to gather resources from places like hardware stores. We had to create instrumentation to check performance, and we actually had to duct tape things together.”

The initial team began the work in a living room (practicing physical distancing). It has  since expanded and  the larger group now works through Slack, an online collaboration tool. The goal is to create low-cost ventilators that can be easily made for under-serviced or isolated regions.

Mike is also coordinating efforts to help provide respirator and mask modifications, new filter testing and other ways to protect health care workers. “I have used respirators and had to wear serious protective equipment when I worked in the nuclear industry, so I understand what’s needed,” he says. “This is the time for us to use our knowledge and expertise, and to get creative about finding solutions to this challenge.”