- The CERN laboratory along the France-Switzerland border is temporarily shifting its focus from physics to medicine.
- The laboratory says it is in the process of developing a ventilator that will help patients battle COVID-19.
- CERN is home to the Large Hadron Collider, the world's most powerful particle collider.
Physicists at the CERN laboratory along the border of Switzerland and France have turned their focus from particles physics to ventilators. As the novel coronavirus sweeps across the globe, many hospitals are in short supply of critical medical supplies, including ventilators, which pump oxygen into patients' lungs.
CERN is home to the Large Hadron Collider—currently the most powerful particle collider in the world—is known for smashing atoms together to unlock the universe's deepest secrets. They're credited with discovering the elusive Higgs boson particle, a key component of the Standard Model of physics, in 2012.
But the laboratory's workforce of nearly 18,000 has shifted gears and is now pouring time and energy into developing a ventilator that can be used to help patients battle the illness. "We want to deploy our resources and competences to contribute to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic," CERN's director-general, Fabiola Gianotti, said in a statement.
At the end of March, Gianotti established a task force to think up ways the laboratory could contribute to the fight against the pandemic, focusing on everything from patenting a new type of ventilator to creating personal protective equipment (PPE) for first responders to developing a recipe for hand sanitizer.
On March 27, researchers developed a first-stage prototype for a ventilator they've dubbed the HEV or (High Energy physics community Ventilator). CERN says the HEV ventilator can be deployed in regions where resources are scarce, doesn't use a lot of energy, and has the ability to be powered using batteries, solar panels, or an emergency generator. They posted the design specs April 1 to the preprint website arXiv.org.
"The team realised that the types of systems used to regulate gas flows for particle physics detectors could be used to design a novel ventilator," according to the statement. "The HEV design could be used for patients in mild or recovery phases, enabling the more high-end machines to be freed up for the most intensive cases." Next, the team is looking to work with clinicians to test the devices in a hospital setting.
All of CERN's projects related to combatting the spread of COVID-19 are released under the laboratory's Open Hardware License, meaning anyone with the proper equipment can build the ventilators. In research labs across the world, there has been a concerted effort to contribute supplies, equipment and know-how toward efforts to defeat the virus.
That's something to celebrate.
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