CERN scientists join the COVID-19 fight

More than 100 researchers and staff at CERN are finding innovative ways to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Scientists, engineers and technicians at the world’s largest particle physics laboratory are teaming up to fill critical gaps in the local and international responses to the outbreak from manufacturing and distributing large quantities of hand sanitizer to designing an open-source ventilator.

One of CERN’s strengths is its ability to connect contacts across a wide variety of expertise and locations, says Beniamino Di Girolamo, a CERN particle physicist and the chair of the CERN Against COVID-19 taskforce. The group is working closely with local agencies, biomedical experts and the World Health Organization to ensure that CERN’s resources are being put to best use and that its designs are safe for patients.

One of its main projects so far is the design of the High Energy physics community Ventilator, HEV. Since the researchers and technicians who work on the Large Hadron Collider have extensive experience in managing gas flows and controls systems, Di Girolamo says, they were well-poised to take on this project. The team posted its ventilator designs on the arXiv preprint server on 1 April and are currently soliciting feedback on a prototype from several medical professionals. The design should be ready for production “in a month, maximum”, says Di Girolamo.

CERN staff are also manufacturing 3D-printed masks and face shields and hand sanitizer for local emergency response departments. The centre is offering up high-performance computing resources to epidemiologists and virologists searching for a COVID-19 vaccine. And some staff are even distributing necessities to elderly and otherwise at-risk community members.

Going forward, Di Girolamo says, the taskforce plans to continue to source ideas from CERN staff, as well as take requests from community partners in need of their expertise.

“We cannot just lock down,” Di Girolamo says. “There is a lot of energy at CERN. There are a lot of people who can help.”

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