The Department of Electronic and Systems Engineering at the University of Malta shall be receiving the Malta Digital Innovation Authority (MDIA) Award for Innovative Technologies in Response to COVID-19, after a team led by Dr Ing. Marc Anthony Azzopardi designed and built prototype equipment to be used by medical personnel to disinfect and reuse their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
This prototype equipment harnesses short wavelength Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI) and was enhanced with a number of features to enable it to reliably and efficiently decontaminate between 9 and 16 speciality face masks, called respirators, in a matter of minutes. The equipment includes several safety mechanisms to minimise the possibility of human error and limit the risk of UVGI exposure to the operator.
The project pre-empted the needs of Mater Dei Hospital during a time of worldwide respirator mask shortages, and saw the Department’s collaborative effort and planning to secure the materials needed and rapidly pitch in to help battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I hereby thank my co-workers, particularly the technicians, departmental secretaries and the University workshop personnel who have helped me bring these ideas to practical fruition in record time”, said Dr Azzopardi, upon expressing gratitude for the recognition of their collective effort, and to Raesch Quarz (Malta) Ltd, who have kindly donated a large quantity of speciality Quartz material needed to make these UVGI units.
He went on to say that the experience he gained in prior research projects broadened his knowledge in UV-C water treatment, photobiology, radiation safety and optoelectronic engineering, and thus enabled him to develop this solution in a timely manner.
After the first prototype was introduced in March 2020, ahead of the local COVID-19 peak, several units were manufactured and delivered to the hospital, in time to make a practical impact, and give frontliners the additional peace of mind that their supply of clean PPE would not run out.
The Department’s efforts were awarded from among 23 valid submissions from other entities.
“We are extremely proud of this concentration of interdisciplinary knowledge and practical knowhow that was deployed for the national good in a way that was hard to predict at the outset, but ended up making a considerable difference. Dr Azzopardi and his team certainly rose to the occasion when it mattered and contributed to the University’s reputation of excellence in research”, said Pro-Rector for International Development & Quality Assurance, Prof. Godfrey Baldacchino.
The University of Malta’s community’s unison in pitching in their skillsets during COVID-19 has already been noted by medical frontliners themselves, with one of the country’s top infectious diseases specialists, Prof. Neville Calleja, commending efforts of academia for their camaraderie in applying their expertise to the extraordinary situation.