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FGCU Chemistry Students Make Hand Sanitizer for Campus Departments

FGCU Chemistry Students Make Hand Sanitizer for Campus Departments

While most of FGCU has come to a standstill since coronavirus took its toll, the chemistry department is hard at work. Students have teamed up under the guidance of organic chemistry professor, Dr. Arsalan Mirjafari, to supply campus departments with hand sanitizer. 

Mirjafari’s team of undergraduate research students have produced 44 liters of the substance so far. That is roughly 11.6 gallons of hand sanitizer. The group receives supply donations from the FGCU chemistry department.

A shortage of hand sanitizer on store shelves has made it difficult to restock dispensers on campus. This scarcity motivated Dr. Mirjafari to make use of his lab during the pandemic. 

“I am from Northwest of Iran. In my culture, we have been using nature-made hand sanitizers for centuries,” said Dr. Mirjafari. Inspired by kolonya, an antiseptic native to his country, Mirjafari wished to recreate the formula.

The mixture includes floral or citrus ingredients and contains at least 80% alcohol. The high alcohol content is proven to ward off harmful bacteria effectively. According to Mirjafari, this antibacterial can combat SARS-CoV-2, HIV, and hepatitis B and C viruses.

While still keeping some elements of kolonya, the group combines alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, glycerol, and distilled water. They follow guidelines approved by the FDA and the World Health Organization when making the product.

According to FGCU Emergency Management Director, Ruth Rodrigues, the Physical Plant issued the first batch of the student-made hand sanitizer.

FGCU prioritizes campus departments such as student housing, health services, or the mailroom during product distribution. If any excess is left over, the school delivers it to local hospitals. 

“This ongoing COVID-19 related uncertainty has profoundly impacted on human life, worldwide healthcare systems, and the global economy,” said Mirjafari. “The nature of my research is hands-on, which requires to be in the lab.”

Mirjafari recruited Grace Anderson, David Siegel, and Isabella Riha to help with this project. 

Grace Anderson, 18, is an FGCU biochemistry major with a desire to help the world through a scientific lens. Anderson viewed this project as the perfect learning opportunity to help her community.

“This experience has been truly amazing,” said Anderson. “ I’ve gotten to see how my work as a chemist and researcher can have immediate real-world impacts. It has also shown me the value of flexibility and creativity when faced with chaos and change.”

David Siegel is another one of Dr. Mirjafari’s volunteers. “It’s a great feeling knowing that our chemistry skills have been put to a practical and necessary cause,” said Siegel. 

According to Anderson, the group alternates between each member making their  batch or assigning people to work with certain ingredients when preparing the formula. 

Social distancing is still in practice, despite having to work in the lab with one another. The chemists must wear masks at all times. 

Noah Cyr and Danielle Whitaker are supervising the project as student lab managers. Their role is to supply glassware and excess chemicals from the teaching labs to Dr. Mirjafari for use in creating the hand sanitizer. 

 “We still rotate appearing on campus such that one of us is there every Tuesday and Thursday, each of us coming once every two weeks,” said Cyr. “Some things simply can’t be done online, such as receiving packages and performing instrument maintenance.”

“I have learned that anyone can make a contribution,” said Whitaker. “When we first started collecting supplies and chemicals, we had just closed the University and went remote, so the virus didn’t seem real yet.”

After the duo first supplied Mirjafari’s team, large batches of hand sanitizer were ready for distribution within two days. Cyr and Whitaker have since ordered additional supplies for the chemistry team to make more of the product.

“Fortunately, our Academic Laboratories had ethanol, peroxides, clove oil, carboys and cylinders that were used to synthesize the hand sanitizer,” said Whitaker. 

According to Mirjafari, the team plans to continue the project as long as they have the resources. However, it is challenging to find active ingredients in bulk.

“As time passed, we all saw how terrible things had become and how difficult finding items such as hand sanitizer really was,” said Whitaker. “I currently have a small bottle on my desk at work and am grateful to have it.”

Lab management works with FGCU’s emergency management team to provide ingredients to Mirjafari’s team. 

“As scary of a time as this pandemic has been, there is a lot of good coming from it,” said Cyr. “I’ve seen many departments and faculty rallying together to do all they can to help those affected, keep the community safe, and soothe the students’ fears.”

In the wake of the pandemic, Dr. Mirjafari reflects on the future of his department.  “Funding for research will be a major challenge,” said Mirjafari. “I have lost internal support for summer research from the school.” 

The chem lab isn’t the only department still operating on campus. The ultimate goal is to meet student needs while making safety a priority. With four positive cases of COVID-19 at the university, department resources are trying to relieve any concerns from students and staff.

“My email is non-stop with professors and instructors in the department brain-storming the best way to give students a quality education despite the circumstances,” said Cyr. “I’ve been studying and working at FGCU for almost five years now, and every day I learn more about the warmth of the people here.”

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