Immersed in boredom because of the COVID-19 shutdown, many people are using the extra time on their hands during their isolation at home to get creative. Artists are plying their talents, homeowners are tackling landscaping and home improvement projects they’ve been putting off, and imaginative posts and videos from people of all ages abound on TikTok and other social media.
A pair of University of New Mexico graduate students who have been isolated at home have designed an innovative device that may turn out to be a lifesaver in the current pandemic.
Husband and wife Mostafa Peysokhan and Maryam Bahmani are both from Iran. They have a young son, Samyar, whose name in Persian means hero. Peysokhan is a graduate student at the Center for High Technology Materials in the field of optical science and engineering working under the supervision of Professor and CHTM Director Arash Mafi. Bahmani is a graduate student in the biology department working under the supervision of Professor Christopher A. Johnston. Her research focuses on how defects during the process of cell division are associated with several diseases, including cancer.
As the couple watched the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic increase at an alarming rate, they realized one of the biggest problems in the crisis was lack of ventilator in the U.S. and all over the world.
“The initial thought came to our mind when we watched a briefing by Gov. Cuomo in New York about the lack of automatic and professional ventilators. He said his state needed more ventilators,” Peysokhan said, adding, “Then we thought about this issue that if in developed countries like the USA and Italy there is a lack of ventilators, what will happen for poor and undeveloped countries? We started doing research about it. There were a few designs by different universities, companies, and individuals but when we looked at them carefully there were problems.”
The designs they looked at were complicated and expensive to produce, with many parts and requiring a lot of equipment.
“Making them required sophisticated tools like a 3D printer, milling machine, lathe machine, computer programing, and servo-motor programmer, and these are not easy to operate for most of the people,” he explained. In addition, some of the designs were not open source and the company was looking to make a profit. In some cases, there was no way to mass-produce the product in a short time, especially in an emergency situation.
The couple put their knowledge and creativity to work to design and build a simple and inexpensive ventilator with only 10 parts that can easily be mass-produced using basic tools and materials.
“We constantly thought about a product that can solve this global issue and finally we came up with an initial design that was very simple and inexpensive without using any complicated machinery," Peysokhan said. "We put the design on LinkedIn and asked our friends and family and everyone to give us feedback to make the device simpler and better.
"Meanwhile, for building the prototype, we started fund-raising to buy a drill, hand saw, and regular tools. I sent lots of emails to different people and we received lots of positive feedback but no money. The beauty of our design is that it is mainly produced with off the shelf materials and the final price is around 60 dollars."
Then Susan Cornelius, site mentor for UNM-Los Alamos, a member of STC.UNM, and Peysokhan’s mentor when he was in the UNM I-corps program, stepped in to guide them through writing an effective fund-raising email. One email went to entrepreneur and venture capitalist Brad Feld, who responded within two hours with a $500 donation. Optical engineer and UNM alum Farzin Beygi Azar who now works in California chipped in too.
Adding another $100 of their own to make a total budget of $700, Peysokhan, Bahmani, and young Samyar started building their prototype, ordering most of the parts from eBay, Amazon, home improvement stores Lowe’s and Home Depot, and McMaster hardware suppliers. With most of Albuquerque locked down, they weren’t able to find a workshop or garage so they started assembling it in their living room.
The project, which they call CorVent, is now online with explanations, directions, parts lists, and videos on how the device works and how to assemble it. The invention has received a huge surge of interest, including from a local news station, the State of New Mexico, and internationally.
“This device is a proof of concept or prototype. The concept is more important than the device. If I want to get FDA approval, I need to make the device from aluminum or stainless steel and then the chance of getting FDA approval is high due to the fact that the FDA announced a EUA, or Emergency Use Authorizations. As for the likelihood of using the device, it mainly depends on the situation,” Peysokhan explained.
To use the device in hospitals they would need to get the FDA approval and test the device, a long and time-consuming procedure. But right now because of the extreme situation and need for ventilators, the procedure would be hastened, Peysokhan said. Because the design is open source, other people could improve on it.
The couple has submitted the design to the Air Force Research Laboratory's Volunteer to Assist the COVID-19 Response Team and received a call from them for more details.
Peysokhan and Bahmani have also received inquiries from Zimbabwe and India about more information for making the device but finding the AMBU bag, a manual resuscitator, is problematic in those countries. The video has gotten major attention, with thousands of views within five days after they posted it. In addition, they have been urged to submit the project to the United Nations Development Programme COVID-19 Detect and Protect Challenge.
“The COVID-19 response team for New Mexico called me yesterday and we talked about some issues, so if in an emergency situation they need to, they can produce the device quickly. Right now I just want to at least calibrate the device with hospital equipment. I can adjust the volume from minimum to maximum but I don't know the exact volume of the minimum and maximum amount” he said.
“Our goal is not to make money or form a business. We want to help all people around the world get past this crisis. All the designs are online to be used freely for everyone who needs it,” Peysokhan noted.