By The Texas A&M System National Laboratories Office
As part of the Texas A&M University Student Engineering Council (SEC) Directed Summer Internship program, a group of engineering students developed an air sanitation conditioning unit that inactivates various airborne microbes, including those that cause COVID-19, through an internship arrangement with Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).
Due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, many students who had summer internships lined up were finding their internships cancelled. As a result, the Texas A&M Student Engineering Council (SEC) developed this Directed Summer Internship program to provide students with a remote internship opportunity. A total of 350 students participated in the program, benefiting from more than 60 mentors from over 50 different companies.
Rodney Boehm, director Engineering Entrepreneurship and associate Professor of Practice, stated, “ I am so proud of the students who took part in the SEC Directed Summer Internship program that was powered by Engineering Entrepreneurship! They advanced professional and business skills, that when combined with the outstanding technical education the already have, will make them a tremendous asset to any company they choose to join. They are truly job ready!”
The program ran from May 25 to Aug. 22, with students completing about 10 hours of work per week throughout the summer. Overall students participated in 25 hours of mandatory training and 30 hours of training electives. They had assigned deliverables, specific deadlines and training on key personal development topics. The program also provided students the opportunity to obtain and develop relevant professional skills, which were identified by the Career Center as most important to recruiters. These skills included relevant work experience, teamwork/interpersonal skills, oral and written communication, creativity and problem solving.
For their final projects, students were placed into groups of mixed majors based on areas of research interest. The group that designed the air sanitation unit, Texas A&M SEC Team 11, included Sebastian Salazar, Manufacturing Engineering; Bryan Reynera, Mechanical Engineering; Sarvesh Mayilvahanan, Mechanical Engineering; Mahendar Chellaram, Aerospace Engineering and Luke Moy, Aerospace Engineering. They worked closely with their two mentors at LANL, Duncan McBranch, Ph.D. program director Driving Innovation for Mission and Graham Arinder, as well as partners from Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Technologies.
They set out “To create an air conditioning device that inactivates airborne microbes, bacteria, and viruses by utilizing UV radiation and/or particulate filters.” Some of the design specifications they needed to meet were for it to be operational in 10,000 cubic feet or smaller room, have an above 99% kill effectiveness, especially for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) and utilize UV-C bulbs with no external UV exposure.
Ultraviolet (UV) light refers to light with wavelengths that fall between X-rays and visible light, or between 10 and 400 nanometers (nm). It is called “ultraviolet” because violet light has the shortest wavelength in the visible spectrum and UV light has wavelengths that are just shorter than violet, making them invisible. Most people are familiar with UV-A, which is the longest wavelength of UV light (320-400nm) and the least harmful to people. People are also familiar with UV-B, which falls in the mid-range of wavelengths (290-320nm) and causes sunburns and cellular damage; however, about 95% of UV-B light is absorbed by the ozone. Finally, UV-C has the shortest wavelengths of the UV light (100-290nm) and is extremely harmful to people. Fortunately. UV-C is almost completely absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere. It does serve a useful purpose, which is to act as a disinfectant for food, air and water by killing microorganisms.
The team integrated UV-C lights in the design based on research showing a 99% kill rate for SARS-CoV-2, without excessively high doses of UV-C. They also used a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter and a MERV 13 Air Filter. The unit housing was based on an existing LANL design that was intended to be used with a box fan.
The team designed and tested four iterations of the device before creating the fifth and most effective design. Their goal was to balance UV-C dosage and airflow to provide effective air movement and maximum sterilization. They even completed a market analysis and made recommendations for future considerations and improvements.
All of the students who participated in the SEC Directed Summer Internship program took part in projects that gave them real-world experiences. One of the participants, Alyssa, shared, “I learned so much about business, communication, and engineering throughout this experience. This internship really put things that we’ve learned in school into perspective. The direction, encouragement, and feedback we received really pushed us as learners and I appreciate all the time you guys spent helping us. There were many moments where I saw myself improve and I found myself doing things out of my comfort zone. In the end, I was really proud of how much I had grown and the product that my team worked together to create. There is so much that I will take away from this to continually improve. Thank you!”
The success of the program has even caught attention from individuals at other universities who have expressed interest in starting similar programs on their campuses.