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ASU Professor Creates Lab at Home to Support Healthcare Workers

BY TETTLEMA – MAY 15, 2020

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Michael Kozicki, Professor of Electrical Engineering at the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, took the initiative to help out in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. With decades of experience in microcontamination management, Kozicki went above and beyond, building a lab at home to create systems for ozone reconditioning of N95 masks and other surgical gear, allowing healthcare workers to make their surgical and personal clothing safe and reuse hard-to-find critical items. “I'm currently working with a team of genuine student geniuses from Luminosity Labs and the results are looking very good indeed,” Kozicki said, and shared more information on his innovative and helpful work.

I returned from a business trip to the UK in March just as the US was sliding into shutdown and I was struck by the rising wave of panic and despondency, especially among our healthcare workers. I started looking for ways that I could help and was put on an ASU working group that was interfacing with Banner’s innovation team. I realized that I could apply my 40 years of semiconductor industry experience, and my expertise in microcontamination management in particular, to help with infection control issues.

I started by looking at ozone gas as a sterilizing agent. Since access to facilities on campus was getting more and more difficult due to the lockdown, I decided to set up an ozone characterization lab at my home. I borrowed equipment from the ASU NanoFab, the MacroTechnology Works, and environmental engineering professor Matt Fraser, but was having difficulty finding an ozone generator as they were flying off the shelves (I think many people around the country had the same idea as me)!

Fortunately, I connected with a very talented student team at Luminosity Labs who also had an interest in using ozone to sterilize medical and personal items and had a beautiful low-cost ozone generator designed and built. I helped them characterize this generator and we used it to treat a number of different masks. I also set up a very basic home test facility to assess the particle trapping efficiency of the masks after ozone treatment to make sure they weren’t being damaged by the gas (we also sent masks for a more detailed analysis to Professor Pierre Herkes of Molecular Sciences).

I’ve since started using my particle testing set-up to examine different commonly available materials for general use masks for Banner to make sure that they filter airborne particles at least as well as the “real” surgical masks that are now in such short supply. The results of that study will influence which materials will be recommended for use in masks made for staff and visitors in hospitals. It has been kinda crazy doing all this stuff and still teaching and keeping up my ongoing research but I actually feel like I'm doing something meaningful and that makes me feel good!

Kozicki’s incredible work is just one, although certainly meaningful, facet of ASU’s ongoing contribution to the response against COVID-19. The resourcefulness and humanity of our university faculty members is on display in spades with his at-home project.

As ASU continues to monitor COVID-19, the university has transitioned from in-person teaching and learning to remote options. In this challenging time, however, the collective innovation of ASU faculty and staff has demonstrated remarkable adaptability. As a method of celebrating the good during uncertain developments, the University Technology Office is gathering success stories of “remote resilience” from the ASU community. The situation globally and across the country is changing daily, but we also plan to share these stories to keep pace.

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