The Covid -19 pandemic had a massive impact on the whole world. From lives lost to closing down economies, the coronavirus of 2020 was a tragedy that will not be long forgotten. Now that it has been two years since the first Covid-19 case, we wanted to take a look back at how engineers got involved to help out during the pandemic.
Engineers from multiple fields came together to fight the virus and find solutions to keep the world running while protecting lives. Optical, electrical, mechanical, computer, and chemical engineers were all involved in sequencing the genetic structure of the virus in order to understand it better: how it affects us, how it spreads, and how to stop it. Back when we were first discovering the vaccine, engineers developed modeling programs to project how it would spread and how deadly it might be in order to get a better grasp on how to stop it in its tracks.
While scientists may have developed the vaccine, engineers put into motion what science discovered. “What we’ve achieved in about four or five weeks would normally take about two-and-a-half years – really quick decision-making, engineering requalification of components, supply-chain sourcing,” said Sam Turner, chief technology officer for the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. Engineers were involved in designing the mechanics that would go into manufacturing billions of doses of vaccines developed by scientists. Engineers were also tasked with solving the challenge of getting those vaccines out on a global scale. Engineers researched enhanced ventilation methods and modeled the spread of the virus through aerosol droplets in order to prevent spread. They developed ways to counteract spread through the air using physical barricades, like plexiglass, or better air circulation.
On a less direct level, engineers of the past helped us continue on despite social distancing. Without engineers who developed computer technology, video conferencing, and 5G, telework would not have been possible. Meeting for classes over Zoom or facetiming your grandma would not have existed. In that sense, engineers made it much easier for us to move forward in a socially distanced society, keeping us connected from 6 or 6,000 feet apart. Previous developed technology, like thermal cameras, were tweaked to be used to detect fever. Phone aps developed long before the pandemic were re-made for contact tracing.
Oxford professor Mark Thompson said, “The crisis has provided the ideal conditions within which an engineering perspective can flourish, because it provides wider adoption of the supportive and collaborative principles which engineers work by.” As a result of the virus, engineers have developed some amazing new technology that helped then and will help far into the future. The invention of the contactless thermometer by a student at the University of Wisconsin changed the way we could take temperature without cross contamination. Research into improved mask efficiency designs and methods to mass produce them changed the textile industry. Also, engineers developed ways to use 3D printers to make Personal Protective Equipment for front-line workers. Methods used to expedite the vaccine research and testing innovated the way we develop medicines, perhaps in ways that can even be used to get better healthcare to people on a global level.
Though we still live with the impacts of the Covid-19 virus today, we are thankful for the engineers who helped get us through.
More to come soon.