The Sunday Edition

Canadian Nobel laureate among scientists collaborating to create a new ventilator

A group of scientists from around the world has been collaborating on the creation of a new ventilator, to meet the growing demand for this essential piece of equipment during the current pandemic. And they have been working at warp speed to make it happen. Arthur McDonald shares the impressive cooperation within the scientific community to create this ventilator.

'It's entirely a humanitarian effort,' says Arthur McDonald.

The Mechanical Ventilator Milano (MVM) ventilator was inspired by the Manley ventilator, developed by Roger Manley in 1961. The MVM is designed to meet the requirements of a ventilator as simply as possible. (Mechanical Ventilator Milano)
Listen17:37

To invent a new piece of medical equipment, create a prototype, test it, mass produce it, and get it to market normally takes years. However, we are not living in normal times.

A group of scientists from around the world has been collaborating on the creation of a new ventilator, to meet the growing demand for this essential piece of equipment during the current pandemic. And they have been working at warp speed to make it happen.

Canadian Nobel Laureate Arthur McDonald is a professor emeritus in particle astrophysics at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. (Arthur B. McDonald Institute)

One of the scientists at the forefront of this project is Canadian Nobel laureate Arthur McDonald. He is a professor emeritus in particle astrophysics at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., and the former director of the SNO Lab project, at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory. In 2015, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.

He spoke with The Sunday Edition's host Michael Enright about the impressive cooperation within the scientific community to create this ventilator.

"What's been most amazing about it is the tremendous number of people on our collaboration who are highly motivated to use their skills to do something to help in this current COVID crisis," he said.

While he was in lockdown in Italy, physicist Cristiano Galbiati recognized the need for more ventilators as deaths from COVID-19 mounted in his country. He launched Mechanical Ventilator Milan, with support from scientists across Europe, in the U.S. and in Canada.

On March 23rd, he contacted McDonald, who rallied Canadian organizations to help the cause, such as Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, SNOLAB in Sudbury, TRIUMF laboratories and the eponymous McDonald Institute at Queen's University.

TRIUMF, Canada’s particle accelerator centre, is one of the collaborators helping Mechanical Ventilator Milan to create a quick-to-market ventilator. The TRIUMF team has contributed across the board, including testing, certification, and design of the control module and associated software. (TRIUMF)

Modern ventilators are sophisticated pieces of equipment with more than 1,000 active parts, whereas this new simplified machine has about 20 to 30 parts. It is modeled after the Manley ventilator, a mechanical device created in 1961 by the late Roger Manley. It is smaller than ventilators used today (about the size of a toaster oven), easier to operate and simpler to mass produce. McDonald expects that by early May, between 800 and 1,000 machines a week will be manufactured in Canada.

"We have what's called a CERN Open Hardware Licence, that makes it possible for any country in the world to take this concept and manufacture it without worries about intellectual property," said  McDonald.

He said the team has been working around the clock, seven days a week, on this project and "it helps to have people distributed across nine time zones between Vancouver and Italy."

What is particularly heartening in this collaboration, he says, is that "in no one's mind is this a money-making proposition. It's entirely a humanitarian effort."

Click 'listen' above to hear the full interview.

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