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SNOlab turning attention to battle against COVID-19

Sudbury’s SNOLAB is working to see how it can help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recently, the research facility donated personal protective equipment to Health Sciences North.

“As many research institutes like ours, we have a lot of personal protective equipment that we use in our underground lab,” Nigel Smith, executive director of the lab said. “We do have things like Tyvek suits, masks, the respirators and so on.”

“What we’ve done is we’ve brought all of that equipment up from underground and we have contributed that to the Health Sciences North team.”

SNOLAB director Nigel Smith says researchers at SNOlab, along with Italian partners, are looking at ways of coming up with new, sophisticated ventilators. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Without the necessary protective gear on site, the amount of work they’ve been doing has been “substantially reduced.” 

“We have trimmed down as much as possible the work we’re doing underground,” Smith said. “For instance we’ve stopped all construction work on projects and we’re putting the lab into a mode where it’s as safe as possible and secure as possible.”

“Of course, as we get over this this epidemic we will start ramping up the work again, but we’ll deal with that at the time.”

Smith said SNOLAB is now involved in talks with research groups internationally to see if a new type of ventilator could be developed.

“Another area that we are beginning to look at is whether the sort of capabilities that we have and the engineering capability that we have can be applied to other areas of support,” he said.

Smith said SNOLAB technicians are working with a team of Italian researchers to develop a new type of ventilator.

“This is the device that is used in intensive care units when people are having trouble breathing,” he said. “The techniques that we have in our field in terms of managing gas flow and gas handling, and the very sophisticated control systems that we need in our sort of experiments can also be brought to bear on this sort of problem.”

“It’s in the very early stages at the moment. It’s just in prototyping,” Smith said. 

Smith described the prototype as a “straightforward type of ventilator” enhanced by a sophisticated control system. 

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