Mars scientists develop ventilator to help Covid-19 effort

Space scientists have used their expertise in the development of life support systems for manned space missions to build a ventilator for use in the fight against Covid-19.

The Planetary Science Group based at the University of Aberdeen’s School of Geosciences has developed the device in response to worldwide efforts to produce more ventilators to treat Covid-19 patients.

Using certified and low-cost components which are commercially available for common use on Earth, the scientists believe the device - known as ATMO-Vent (Atmospheric Mixture Optimization Ventilator) - is quicker to build, more cost-effective and more user-friendly than any other model currently in development.

They are now working to have the device officially certified, so that it can be rapidly deployed in healthcare settings worldwide.

The design team is led by Professor Javier Martín-Torres, who heads the Planetary Science Group.

He said: “As a multidisciplinary research group specialising in Martian study, we have a wealth of experience in building, calibrating and qualifying space instruments using commercial components.

“We’ve used this expertise to design and build a fully operating prototype ventilator using widely available parts. This means that it is easy to build and ideally suited to rapid, mass deployment in healthcare settings. This will be especially useful in countries with underdeveloped healthcare infrastructure.

“The ATMO-Vent has been designed to comply with UK regulatory guidelines, and we are now in the testing phase as we seek industrial and healthcare partners to collaborate with us on its continued development.”

Professor Martín-Torres’s Planetary Science Group has recently arrived at the University and is renowned for its expertise in development of instruments for Earth and planetary exploration. For example, he has designed and built an instrument that will be used in a European Space Agency probe scheduled to fly to Mars in 2022.

The Covid-19 crisis has allowed the Group to put their skills to another use, albeit one which may one day be used as part of its usual activities.

“As a Group we have watched the spread of Covid-19 with growing alarm, and we wanted to use our expertise to help,” Professor Torres said.

“Our hope is that the ATMO-Vent’s cost-effective design and short development time means it can rapidly supplement the number of ventilators being produced my manufacturers.

“Looking beyond the current crisis, there is also the potential to scale the design for space applications by using it to implement and control artificial atmospheres, for example in space greenhouses and artificial habitats for future planetary explorations.”

Dr Dave Muirhead, Head of the University’s School of Geosciences, said: “The arrival of the Planetary Science Group in Aberdeen is an extremely exciting development for the School of Geosciences and the University.

“The Group’s track record in interplanetary research includes numerous high-profile research publications in leading journals, with an emphasis on remote observation, and atmospheric and planetary research on the Earth, Moon and Mars.

“Their skill in building high-quality instruments for use in planetary research is already world-renowned, and it is to their credit that they have used these skills to offer assistance in the Covid-19 effort.”

Marion Campbell, Vice Principal for Research at the University of Aberdeen, said: “Across multiple disciplines, our research community is working as part of a broad effort to harness our world-renowned academic expertise in the fight against Covid-19.

“The work of Professor Martin-Torres and the Planetary Science Group in developing this ventilator is a prime example of how our researchers are applying their skills to meet the challenges created by the pandemic.

“I commend their efforts, and as a University we continue to support our research community in its response to the challenging circumstances we find ourselves in.”

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