2020 saw the world being besieged by an unexpected catastrophe. Circumstances that were never seen before surfaced and our routines were shattered. Weirdly enough, it taught us how isolating solitude could be, while at the same time showed us the positivity of the time we give to ourselves. This called for change. Not just in our surroundings, but within us as well. From finally learning how to stir up that perfect cup of Dalgona to learning to use gloves and masks everywhere; from chaotic classrooms to dull zoom meetings - we all changed.

NITC did not lag behind in accepting these, and also contributed positively to them. New engineering solutions to problems were formalized and implemented, and breakthrough technologies were invented.

1. HOSTELS TURNED INTO COVID CARE CENTRES

One of the major contributions to help in the pandemic was lending out the Mega Boys Hostel and MBA hostels, comprising 550+ rooms with two-bed facilities, as Covid Care Centres, which were later turned to Covid First-Line Treatment Centres (FLTC).

FLTCs act as the primary-level healthcare centre for treating all mild and moderate symptomatic persons under surveillance. They will also be utilised for treating positive cases as and when the need arises. This was essential as approximately 40% of the patients occupying the beds in COVID hospitals for more than 10 days were asymptomatic, and hence the Kerala Health department planned to shift them to FLTCs closeby to ensure beds for critical patients.

All of the student’s belongings were shifted and the hostel was handed over to the District Administration. Doctors and health staff were available regularly, and food was supplied by volunteers on duty at our centre. This ensured that COVID hospitals were not over-crowded and people with mild symptoms were getting the care and treatment they need without having to visit the hospitals. This also turned out to be a great support for people returning from overseas.

2. AUTOMATIC BAGGAGE UV SANITIZATION MACHINE

During the early days of the COVID-19 lockdown, NIT Calicut along with other premier technical institutes, took initiative to develop various equipment and devices designed to combat the pandemic. The need for an effective mechanism to disinfect the baggage of students and staff who would return to campus once the lockdown was lifted was sensed by the authorities. A team of faculties and students led by Dr. R Manu, Mechanical Engineering Dept., proposed a project to design, fabricate and install automatic baggage sanitization machines at all entry points in the campus which would effectively prevent the transmission of the virus through bags.

The developed machine is similar in construction to the baggage x-ray scanners installed in airports. Once the bag is placed on the conveyor platform, it will be carried into the UV chamber, where it is disinfected to remove all microorganisms, including viruses. The speed of the conveyor is set in such a way that sufficient UV light exposure occurs on all the sides of the bag.

The project was completely funded by NIT Calicut. The first prototype was tested and is currently installed in the New Library Building on campus and is being extensively used. This project was also appreciated by the Council of NITSER by listing it under the NITSER COVID-19 research initiatives. In the words of the team, “This project is undoubtedly an application of science and technology for the benefit of the society”.

The team consisted of:

  • Dr. R Manu, Professor, Mechanical Engineering Department
  • UG students: Mr. Ashuthosh Kulkarni, Mr. Dekketi Vikram Reddy, Ms. Dhanya Vangalapudi
  • PhD scholars: Mr. Bibin K. Tharian, Mr. Jees George
  • Central Workshop Staff: Mr. E Pradeep Kumar, Mr. K G Manoj, Mr. M V Prasad, Mr. K C Suresh, Mr. T M George, Mr. P V Raghu
  • Adhoc Staff (Central Workshop): Mr. Irfan Habeeb K A, Mr. Midhun M P, Mr. Sirusahal M K, Mr. Prince Lal C J, Mr. Abin. E. Pradeep, Mr. Akhil A
  • EMU Staff: Mr. Prajith
  • Graphic Artist: Mr. Chandramohanan

3. OUR OWN HAND SANITIZERS

The pandemic caused the health centre to move from its role of reactive help provided to the student community, to proactively working for the prevention of the spread of disease by ensuring strict adherence to COVID protocol in day to day activities of the institute. One of the initial steps that the NITC Health Centre recommended was the provision of handwashing facilities, temperature scanning machines and an adequate supply of sanitisers at all entry points of the institute.

Due to the high demand for sanitisers, there was a steep increase in their price. Chingakham Chinglenthoiba (John Momo), a full-time PhD student from the School of Material Science and Engineering shares about the hand sanitiser movement in NIT Calicut:

At the time, Dr. Sajth V (Head of the School of Material Science and Engineering) and Dr. Parameshwaran P (Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry) offered to provide their expertise. With help from the administration, they managed to procure all necessary items and produced packaged hand sanitisers for internal use within the college. They also had foot-operated sanitiser dispensers and installed them in all important locations in NITC.

In the words of Dr. Anu Mary Chacko (Assistant Professor at the CSE Dept & Faculty In-charge of the NITC Health Centre), “We believe that adherence to COVID protocol is one reason we could control the spread of the disease in a campus as vast as ours. We have seen that together in NITC we are self-sufficient as we could bring in cost-effective sanitisers with the help of our staff and students in our lab.”

4. 3D-PRINTED REUSABLE FACE SHIELDS AND MASKS

Dr. P K Rajendrakumar (Professor), Akhil V M and Ambika P S (Research Scholars) at the Design Innovation Centre of the Mechanical Engineering Department, have developed 3D-printed reusable PLA face shields and masks for medical purposes. 3D printing, commonly referred to as additive manufacturing, creates three-dimensional parts from computer-aided design (CAD) models by successively adding material layer by layer until the physical object is created. These face shield frames and face masks have been manufactured using PLA material on the Raise3D machine available at NIT Calicut.

Face Shield: A face shield has a transparent OHP film that covers most of the user’s face and even their ears, thus acting as an extra layer of protection over the regular masks. The frame is made from PLA (polylactic acid), which is autoclavable and compatible with disinfectant cleaners. Each shield takes about 2 hours to print. The user would be comfortable using this shield as it is non-rigid and flexible. Another important feature is that it can be easily dismantled and disinfected, thus making it reusable.

Face Mask: The team has developed a prototype for a durable, lightweight, reusable face mask that can be disinfected to augment the supply of face masks during the shortage of PPE. The face mask has two parts: a contoured mask and filter housing. The contoured mask is made more ergonomic by placing sponges on the edges where it feels hard against the face. The nonwoven filter material used for filter housing is replaceable and is widely available. The mask is printed in two sizes, both having the same size as the filter housing.

5. UV DISINFECTION CHAMBERS

The UV disinfection chambers were built on the suggestion of the previous Director of NIT Calicut, Prof. Shivaji Chakravorty, to reduce the spread of microorganisms by sanitizing medium-sized objects, such as paper files coming to offices, being handled by the officials.

The principle behind it is that light at UV-C wavelengths (200-280 nm) could effectively kill microorganisms by disrupting their nucleic acid, proteins and molecular structure. The lamp energy, exposure time, and lamp-file distance could be controlled remotely. The whole setup will be designed in such a way that harmful UVC radiation won’t escape out of the box.

Despite many hurdles like inaccessibility to components and travel restrictions, the team handed over two units mid-May and proceeded to make three more. This chamber would be a great help to reduce contact modes of transmission.

The team consisted of:

  • Dr. Soney Varghese, Associate Professor & Head, School of Nanoscience and Technology
  • Dr. Baiju G Nair, Assistant Professor, School of Biotechnology
  • Dr. Maneesh C Chandran, Assistant Professor, Department of Physics
  • Dr. Subramanyan NV, Assistant Professor, Department of Physics
  • Mr. Arun R, Research Scholar, Department of Physics
  • Mr. Sreenath, M. Tech

6. EMERGENCY VENTILATOR

Dr. Sajith V (Head of School of Materials Science and Engineering), Mr. Arun Kumar (Incubatee of TBI) and Mr. Ananadan K R (Senior Mechanic, Dept. of Electronics and Communication Engineering) developed the “emergency ventilator with exhale disinfector”. It is a reusable respiratory device used to provide positive pressure ventilation to patients who face difficulty in breathing. Conventionally, this bag is operated manually. But in the present model, the operation of the AMBU (Artificial Manual Breathing Unit) bag has been made automatic using the Wiper motor of automobiles.

Another unique feature of the ventilator is that it filters the infectious exhaled air of COVID patients (using sodium hypochlorite solution) before expelling to the atmosphere. Expensive filters are generally used for this purpose, but the ventilator developed by NITC is of a low cost of around Rs. 7000 only. Besides, these ventilators are portable and can be used as breathing support for patients during their transportation. Kerala Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Ltd is now in the process of bringing this product into the market.

7. REUSABLE AEROSOL BOXES

The aerosol containment boxes are primarily used for protecting doctors, especially anesthesiologists, by protecting them from aerosols and droplets containing virus during intubation of patients. The material used to design the box is a sheet of clear acrylic, readily available in the market; the total cost comes to be around Rs. 3500. Advanced cutting machines, like LASER cutting instruments, are used to achieve precision and dimensional accuracy while fabricating the boxes.

The box consists of two main sides - the doctor’s side and the patient’s side. The armholes provided for the doctor may lead to some distortion due to overload on the vertical joints of this side of the box. Hence, a strip of acrylic, ½ inch in width is placed along the corners to act as a reinforcement. A front piece is also fabricated on the patient’s side, giving strength and rigidity to the box.

As these boxes are made of acrylic, they can be sanitised and reused easily. The project was worked on by a team consisting of Dr. Hanas T (Assistant Professor, School of Material Science and Engineering), Dr. Jimmy Jose (Assistant Professor, CSE Department), Dr. Subramanyan NV (Assistant Professor, Department of Physics) and Muhammad Shafeeque Rahman (PhD. scholar at SMSE) upon the request of the Department of Anaesthesia at the Kozhikode Govt Medical College.

8. IRIS LOWT

This is a product straight from the TBI at NITC. The leg-operated water taps, or “LOWT” for short, is an innovation brewed up in IRIS Alternative solutions, which is led by Mr Babu Mathew. With the vision of helping out nature by saving water, it is a patented, pedal-operated, water-saving device for faucets. Widely used during the pandemic, the LOWT offered a cheap, sustainable solution to a very common problem.

Additionally, it doesn’t require any electricity to operate, making it a clean invention. Very “handy” in times of the pandemic, the LOWT can be used without the need for any hand contact, and thus minimizes the probability of viral and bacterial transmission. A simple tap on the pedal is all that is needed. This causes the faucet to turn on, and hence water is only used when the pedal is pressed. This simple mechanism helps save water, and significantly reduces the spread of disease.

Some of the other contributions made by our college in the past year of lockdown include:

  • Development of a nasal air filter, which can be used to disinfect the air (inhale/exhale) containing the coronavirus.
  • UV Disinfection Towers were developed internally; these can be used for disinfecting classrooms and offices.
  • Hand sanitisers (74% IPA) prepared by the NIT Calicut team were handed over free of cost to CISF Karipur Airport and Chathmangalam Grama Panchayat office.
  • NITC Cooperative store has supplied 2000 three-layer cloth masks for all the NITC employees in June 2020.
  • NITC has set up a 24 hour COVID helpdesk with a dedicated medical team for checking campus inmates with COVID symptoms.
  • NIT Calicut students and staff have contributed well by actively participating in the Digital Innovation Team as part of the COVID Data Analytics Project by the Calicut District Administration.

As put by our Dean of Students’ Welfare, Dr Madhukumar S D, “Life is trudging back to normalcy now, with the vaccines providing the much-needed hope to dream of the world we were all used to. Personally, it was a great experience for me to coordinate, lead and motivate the teams for most of these projects, especially during those days when none of us was sure where the world was heading to. The experience we had on those dark days shall forever remain an unforgettable lesson, which would continue to infuse us with fresh wisdom and renewed vigour, in all our future endeavours.”