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Initiatives from the CERN community in global fight against COVID-19

The “CERN against COVID-19” taskforce, which coordinates the actions, has received hundreds of suggestions to contribute to the efforts to curb the pandemic

HEV High Energy Ventilator Prototype
Jan Buytaert and Paula Collins in their CERN laboratory where they develop the new HEV ventilator whose prototype is visible in the foreground (Image: Jacques Fichet, Samuel Hertzog/CERN)

Members of the CERN community have shown ingenuity and generosity in their contribution to the struggle against the COVID-19 pandemic. The “CERN against COVID-19” taskforce, which was established at the end of March to identify and support these initiatives, has already received hundreds of messages suggesting ideas ranging from producing sanitizer gel to designing and building sophisticated medical equipment. Indeed, CERN and its community can make use of important resources such as the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid, mechanical workshops, sophisticated design and prototyping facilities, advanced technologies and expertise ranging from science and engineering to industrialisation.

The taskforce was set up to ensure effective and well-coordinated action, working closely with experts in healthcare, drug development, epidemiology and emergency response so as to maximise the impact of the Organization’s contributions. CERN has established links with local hospitals and emergency services, and in the context of an agreement established in 2011, entered into dialogue with experts at the World Health Organization. Discussions are also underway with sister European scientific organisations, the European Molecular Biology Organization and the European Bioinformatics Institute.

“We have been very encouraged by the enthusiasm of the community to contribute,” said Beniamino Di Girolamo, chair of the taskforce. “Ideas range from the deployment of CERN’s powerful computing, engineering and technical resources, to assisting the local effort through logistical and emergency response support.”

Initiatives already underway include the production of one tonne of sanitizer gel to distribute to local emergency-response teams. The CERN Fire and Rescue Service has been working with the emergency services in the region since late March. CERN’s 3D-printing and workshop capability has been deployed to complement the production of protective equipment such as masks and Perspex barriers for law enforcement in the region. Studies are underway to deploy the particle physics community’s considerable computing capacity to assist in the search for a vaccine.

Another project being pursued is a novel streamlined ventilator, called HEV. A team of physicists and engineers from the LHCb collaboration at CERN led the initiative. They are supported by a number of CERN services. As the pandemic spreads, the number of hospitalised patients requiring ventilators has led to a global shortage of supplies. The team realised that the types of systems used to regulate gas flows for particle physics detectors could be used to design a novel ventilator. The HEV design could be used for patients in mild or recovery phases, enabling the more high-end machines to be freed up for the most intensive cases. It is a safety-first design, intended to satisfy clinical requirements for the most requested ventilation modes for COVID-19 patients.

The first stage of prototyping was achieved at CERN on 27 March, with a concept that relies on inexpensive and readily available components. The desired physical characteristics of the pressure regulators, valves and pressure sensors are now being refined, and the support of clinicians and international organisations is being harnessed for further testing within hospital settings. The control software for this device will be encapsulated in a dedicated microcontroller that will, along with other low-power components, enable the deployment of the HEV in areas with limited resources and unstable power distribution. This will allow it to be powered with batteries, solar panels or emergency power generators.

Two other groups of scientists are behind similar initiatives. One group in the Global Argon Dark Matter collaboration proposed a ventilator (called MVM) that uses components that are also readily available and could be produced rapidly on a large scale. A team from the Laboratory of Instrumentation and Experimental Particle Physics in Portugal, among others, has also presented a concept for a cost-effective ventilator (Open Air project) using a limited number of components.

The aim is to release CERN developments against COVID-19 under the CERN Open Hardware Licence so that equipment may be produced wherever there is a need, and adapted to local regulatory frameworks.

Don’t forget to read the CERN Courier article about this issue.

Follow the progress of the initiatives on this site: cern.ch/against-covid-19.