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School of Engineering and Technology professor builds intubation boxes to protect hospital workers

May 13, 2020
a man stands with intubator boxes he built
Stanley Chien, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, built the boxes to help shield hospital workers from exposure to coronavirus-laden particles when intubating patients.Photo courtesy of Stanley Chien

Like so many who have watched the COVID-19 crisis unfold, Stanley Chien wanted to help in some way. He just wasn’t sure how – until the perfect engineering project landed in his lap.

Chien, a professor of electrical and computer engineering in the School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI, got a tip from a doctor friend that an Illinois hospital needed intubation boxes.

When a patient is intubated and put on a ventilator, such boxes can be used to shield health care workers from exposure to virus-laden particles that may be expectorated by the patient.

Intubation boxes are in use by many hospitals nationwide, but they are not mass-produced like personal protective equipment. They must be made one at a time, by hand, by someone with access to proper tools and materials – in short, someone with construction skills and connections.

Does that sound like an engineering professor?

“I looked at this and thought, ‘I could do this too,’” Chien said. “I can make it for any hospital that needs it. We have the tools.”

The boxes were first made in Taiwan, and Chien discovered that the design and measurements are easily found online. He got strong support from School of Engineering and Technology Dean David Russomanno to use the school facilities, Associate Dean for Research Razi Nalim coordinated the tool-gathering, and the school paid for the materials. The boxes cost around $200 and are made from a quarter-inch-thick transparent polycarbonate.

“In the past, we’ve used this material in automotive safety,” said Chien, who works on robotics and embedded systems with the Transportation and Autonomous Systems Institute at IUPUI. “It’s not really complicated – it’s carpenter work.”

With equipment loaned from the motorsports engineering program, Chien was able to cut the material into pieces – with two holes in one piece for health care workers’ arms to pass through – and glue them into a box shape.

And over three days in early April, he had five boxes made that were eventually delivered to the hospital. He modestly claims it was no big deal, refusing to take any more credit than someone who just followed a blueprint.

“He’s just always willing to help,” said Lingxi Li, an associate professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering. “He is a perfectionist and always thinks about the best solutions to an engineering problem.”

Even one that can protect those on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis.

“I’m just trying to help,” Chien said. “If I can do something to help, I’m satisfied.”

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