The University of Nebraska has released the newest episode of its "Leading Nebraska" podcast series, featuring efforts at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to help Nebraskans respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
UNL’s efforts included the rapid production of some 200,000 gallons of hand sanitizer for use by first responders, businesses, and organizations on the front lines, including schools, hospitals and nursing homes. Hand sanitizer was in short supply in the early stages of the pandemic, and the availability of ingredients to make it as well as supplies to produce and package it were limited.
That’s when Hunter Flodman, associate professor of practice in chemical and bimolecular engineering at UNL and a technical advisor to the Nebraska Ethanol Board, stepped in. Flodman and a team of colleagues from across campus, the Nebraska Ethanol Board and private industry worked around the clock to design and build a hand sanitizer production model at the Food Processing Center at Nebraska Innovation Campus. Terry Howell, director of the Food Processing Center, led the effort along with Flodman. Businesses donated ethanol, the main ingredient in hand sanitizer, as well as packaging supplies and other resources.
"Things moved at a really accelerated pace," Flodman says in the podcast. "I think everybody knew the urgency of the situation. Everybody wanted to help. And the university was great about supporting us as well as a number of private companies."
The UNL community has also supported Nebraskans in myriad other ways during the pandemic. Protective face shields and disposable gowns for first responders were produced at the makerspace at Nebraska Innovation Campus, and UNL’s Office of Research and Economic Development steered expertise and resources toward the COVID-19 response. According to ORED Vice Chancellor Bob Wilhelm, pandemic-related research projects include virology research, development of tools like a wireless thermometer, and a study of the pandemic’s impact on education in Nebraska.
"Our faculty, our staff, our students – they’re problem-solvers," Wilhelm says in the podcast. "They want to be on the forefront of understanding. And they were really interested. They were activated. They wanted to take action right away."
Helping Nebraskans respond to COVID-19 has been a priority across the entire University of Nebraska system, with faculty, staff and students at UNO, UNK and UNMC pitching in as well.
Says Flodman: "As Nebraskans, we help each other and we support each other, and when someone can do something to help other people, other Nebraskans step up and do what they can."
The NU system launched the "Leading Nebraska" podcast last fall to share stories of researchers, students and educators across the four campuses who are growing the state’s workforce and quality of life. Podcast topics include nursing, agricultural education, workforce development, cybersecurity, teacher education, national defense and others, featuring experts from UNL, UNO, UNK and UNMC.
Listeners may follow the "Leading Nebraska" podcast here.