Guest Editorial: ChEs Tackle COVID-19 | AIChE

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Guest Editorial: ChEs Tackle COVID-19

May
2020

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The current COVID-19 pandemic has doubtlessly given all of us reason to reflect on many aspects of our lives. I have thought about friends and family and their well-being during this crisis, as well as the little things we all take for granted, like trips to the grocery store or having dinner in a restaurant.

I have also been considering what makes AIChE so special to me. It is each and every one of you — our members, volunteers, leaders, engineers, scientists, researchers, educators, professionals, and the many others who are diligently working to inspire our safe, connected, and inclusive community — all united to meet society’s current challenge, the coronavirus. There are many stories of these valiant efforts. Here are a few I’d like to share with you.

The project team from our RAPID Manufacturing Institute at the Univ. of Pittsburgh is using their research facilities to make hand sanitizer from donated chemicals. On a large scale, Huntsman is repurposing its coatings and adhesives facility in Alabama and Dow Chemical re-engineered a plant in Germany to make hand sanitizer, adding to production from BASF, Lubrizol, Arkema, and P&G.

Chemical engineers in labs and plants have donated personal protective equipment (PPE) to medical personnel across the country who have desperate need for it. The Chemical and Biological Engineering Dept. at New York Univ. gave thousands of latex gloves and hundreds of masks to the Brooklyn Hospital Center. AIChE donated 3,000 travel-size bottles of hand sanitizer to Bellevue Hospital’s healthcare workers.

Additionally, RAPID and its members are working to help a team at Clemson Univ. build the supply chain for modular sterilization systems that can be rapidly deployed to medical facilities. 3M is producing 166.5 million N95 masks within the next three months to distribute across the U.S. Chemical engineers at companies such as Carbon and Stratasys are using their 3D printing technology to make PPE.

Our Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS) created a list of guidelines for managing process safety in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on the 20 elements of risk-based process safety, these guidelines address manufacturing needs while taking into account the current disruption and threats to process safety and operational resources such as people, materials, and equipment.

Pharmaceutical and biological engineers are also helping produce faster and cheaper diagnostic solutions, repurposing and developing new drugs to treat patients, isolating antibodies against the present coronavirus, and testing new vaccines. Janssen Research & Development and Moderna are accelerating the development of potential vaccines, while a team at the Wyss Institute is developing a surrogate non-COVID coronavirus for use in studies. Meanwhile, services companies such as Ginkgo Bioworks and Twist Biosciences have offered their platform to help support technology development. And universities are putting research on hold and shifting their focus to COVID-19 — the article on p. 8 describes such work underway at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI).

These are just a few examples of AIChE’s aspiration of chemical engineers Doing a World of Good. We can all be very proud of how our profession is working tirelessly to help solve this current crisis.

As we look for a resolution to this situation, while we all practice social distancing, it is my wish that each and every one of you stays safe and healthy.

June Wispelwey, Executive Director and CEO

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