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UAF Invents Tech to Fight COVID-19

About 30 proposals for inventions to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic have come in to University of Alaska Fairbanks. Last month, as the disease came to Alaska, the university’s Center for Innovation, Commercialization, and Entrepreneurship put out a call to staff and students for innovations to deal with the Coronavirus. 

Mark Billingsley is a patent attorney for the university Office of Intellectual Property & Commercialization. The Center for Innovation, Commercialization, and Entrepreneurship goes by the short name Center ICE. This call for proposals the Immediate Innovation for Coronavirus Project (IICP) is designed to support immediate action.

“Most of the proposals are related to science, engineering and technology, a couple about modeling of the virus and a couple in the arts.”

Billingsley was happy that so many proposals came in, and he wishes he could fund them all. The money is coming from the Office of Naval Research, which wants to move fast to respond to COVID-19.

Already university engineers are working on four of the projects: a device for handling a patient’s exhalation, 3-D printing respirator parts, a data tool to identify community risk factors for COVID-19, and an ultraviolet sterilizer for medical personal protective equipment, including masks. That UV sterilizer may be ready to ramp up in a week or two.

PAPR example

And while the rest of the proposals are waiting for funding, university researchers have already solved some problems with PPE shortages. Dayne Broderson says a group at the local hospital had some protective hoods they needed but could not use because they didn’t fit their new equipment. These Positive Air Pressure Respirators, or PAPR seal off the user and pipe in filtered air. Broderson says UAF researchers came together with engineers and machine shop staff to create a fix.

“They needed an adapter to go from their new style to their old style hoods, so we were able to have one person design and model the thing, another one tweak and optimize it for printing, and then a team of people just immediately manufactured the necessary adapter, so within that week, access that hood inventory.”

After the UAF team made adapters for the hospital PAPRs, the Fairbanks Fire Department connected with the team to solve another PAPR problem.

Gwen Holdmann from the Alaska Center for Energy and Power says the university has also been working on a hand sanitizer and other PPE to distribute at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.

“The hospital is pretty open to working with us. ‘Tell us where what we are doing is not meeting a need that you have, or we’re on the wrong track.’ And they’ve been really good about giving us that feedback.”

“We’ve been needs-driven, responding to what the community is asking for. It’s really important with our limited time and resources to make sure that what we are doing is very tightly aligned with what’s on the ground.”

Billingsley says university departments are used to collaborating, but the payoff has never been so immediate as these projects to respond to the pandemic. Holdmann says the collaboration is also wrapping in local businesses.

“Really been trying to take advantage of all this brainpower and resources at the university. So, it is a multi-dimensional multi-faceted effort, which is pretty exciting.”

Amanda Byrd, also from ACEP, says she is tracking the story of these fast collaborations.

“Watching this team work with the researchers at UAF, to just jump on these needs and create these technologies or start innovating to make not only Alaska- or Fairbanks-based innovations, but these could be innovations that could be used worldwide.”

IICP is supported by the Office of Naval Research and is a program of Center ICE.

UAF Office of Intellectual Property and Commercialization

212 West Ridge Research Building

PO Box 757265 Fairbanks, AK 99775-7265

Phone: 907.474.2605   Email:

Mark Billingsley at