Students and doctors create hand sanitizer innovation to combat COVID-19  

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As the novel coronavirus spread through Da Nang City, Dr. Ngo Dinh Thanh, faculty at the Da Nang University of Technology (DUT), gathered a team of engineering students to their school’s BUILD-IT-supported Maker Innovation Space and compelled them to leverage their creativity and engineering knowhow to protect their community from the deadly disease.

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The full team of young men and women

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To get started, the students interviewed a local doctor to learn that busy healthcare workers in Da Nang and around the world are struggling to distribute hand sanitizer to their patients. While industries around Da Nang began producing hand sanitizer, Dr. Thanh’s students decided to fortify the community’s response by designing a low-cost automatic hand sanitizer dispenser for their local hospital.

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A look ahead at their final product

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Over the next three days, the team designed, built, tested and improved their innovation. Pressed to act quickly, the students tested their prototype at Da Nang City Hospital’s front desk. The students followed the doctors’ feedback and quickly updated their dispenser to meet the needs on the ground. Thrilled by the students’ quick cost-cutting design, the Da Nang City Hospital ordered ten dispensers to station throughout the hospital for both doctors and patients to access.

Patients at Da Nang Hospital test the prototype

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Dr. Thanh’s ability to turn his students into public health innovators in just three days is a testament to his ability to coach young people to combine their creativity and technical skills to bring real value for their communities. Since 2017, Thanh has advocated for strong project-based learning programing at his university. Through collaboration with the USAID BUILD-IT Alliance, implemented by Arizona State University, Thanh has piloted three cohorts of the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program and hosted a Global EPICS project; with Vietnamese and American students working side-by-side in Da Nang. Looking at the impact of EPICS on his students Thanh shared, “By applying the EPICS process to their designs, my students learn to leverage their creativity and expertise to contribute to their community in a meaningful way”.

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Dr. Thanh leads team through design review

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To sustain service-learning at DUT, Thanh infused the EPICS service-learning process into the mission of his DUT Maker Student Club. Through the Maker Club, students have the space, supplies, and guidance they need to quickly respond to their communities' engineering needs. As the Maker Club grows from an after-school activity into an asset for its community, Thanh continues to coach his students and peers to focus their design for community impact and spearhead meaningful innovations in times of crisis.

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Click here to watch Youtube video of the project