Jean Morris joined NPL in October 2019, little did she know that 6 months later she would be the instigator of one of NPL’s most ambitious and important projects. Along with a rapidly assembled team from all disciplines, she used Microsoft Teams to create an agile and responsive group of scientists and engineers that pushed the boundaries of product design to address the UK’s Ventilator Challenge.
Jean has a master’s degree in physics at Lancaster University and worked at Airbus on their satellite and space activities. Now based in NPL’s Instruments Group, her work has ranged from the redefinition of the SI to atomic clocks, applying electromagnetism, low temperature expertise, electronics, programming and modelling. “I have learnt new skills and applied my knowledge in different ways, in such a short space of time (at NPL) my job and work has had so much variety to it!”
At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis the government launched the UK Ventilator Challenge to encourage manufacturers to re-purpose their assembly lines to produce ventilators and support new designs. Jean posed a question on NPL’s internal communications network about NPL’s knowledge or ideas about ventilators. Within days suggestions were posted, discussed, evaluated and improved. The resulting multidisciplinary team of engineers and scientists pursued several innovative designs for delivering oxygen to patients in low-income and remote parts of the world. The ventilators were designed to run on battery, solar panels, wind turbines or mains power, as well as being simple to use and made from widely available parts.
Three low-cost, robust and simple ventilators emerged as the front runners and NPL produced prototypes of each. These were then evaluated against the required specification, which had changed as the team’s knowledge increased of how patients were responding. The project team then voted on the best design for making an effective ventilator available to as many people as possible, and Jean’s design proved to be the winner. “I was so impressed by the speed and the agility in working. It was great that we were encouraged to give this project as much time as required, which gave us the freedom to explore new ways of working as a team.”