Institution-Wide Effort to Address Ventilator Shortage

Summer 2020

In response to a pressing need for more ventilators to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients, JHU’s Applied Physics Laboratory hosted an online design workshop to coordinate university-wide efforts to address the issue. The event provided a way to “get ideas out on the table and to draw expertise from across the institution” says workshop leader Alan Ravitz, chief engineer of APL’s National Health Mission and an instructor in WSE’s Engineering for Professionals programs.

The two projects the group selected to support were spearheaded by WSE teams.

Simplicity and Quantity

Nick Keim and Johns Hopkins researchers test a pumpless ventilator
Keim’s prototype was tested at the Johns Hopkins Medicine Simulation Center

Simplicity and a goal of mass production inspired the design for the pumpless ventilator created by Nick Keim, deputy director of WSE’s Energetics Research Group and an instructor in Engineering for Professionals.

While the oxygen used in ventilators usually derives from a cylinder or a medical oxygen station, Keim’s ventilator uses air as its source and comprises only three actively controlled valves, two sensors, two mechanical safety valves, and an algorithm that ensures requirements for air and oxygen delivery volumes, pressures, and rates are met. “Because it is mechanically simple, it is very reliable, and it’s very low powered. We believe we can run it for 24 hours on a 12-volt battery,” Keim says. The components he selected come from national, highly reliable distributors, are available in quantities of more than 10,000, and can be manufactured on a large scale. “Our goal is mass production,” says Keim.

Double Duty

Helen Xun
Helen Xun, a medical student working with Kang, showing off two forms of ventilator splitters she is helping to design and 3D print.

Sung Hoon Kang, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, has developed a prototype of a 3D printed ventilator splitter that will allow a single ventilator to treat multiple patients. “There is an emphasis right now on using engineering to develop open-source solutions to many aspects of the COVID-19 crisis, but especially for ventilator design and production,” says Kang, whose team includes ICU intensivists and pulmonary specialists at JHU’s School of Medicine.

Kang’s design includes an air flow controller and flow meters to allow for the adjustment of oxygen levels and air flow for different patients, and a filter to prevent cross-contamination and the spreading of germs between patients. Team members are  testing their design on model lungs and, once it is approved by the FDA, will publish their open-source design for others to use.

Our researchers, medical teams, staff, and students are working tirelessly to help with testing, patient care, and preventive care—with your support we can do more! Visit to make a gift in support of our efforts.