In March of 2020, many people began moving to working and learning from home as coronavirus made its way across the nation. Hand sanitizer was hard to find, not only for individuals and families—but for businesses and organizations on the front lines and for essential workers. From ingredients to make hand sanitizer to plastic to package it, supplies were low and availability was limited.
That’s when the University of Nebraska–Lincoln stepped in to help businesses across Nebraska, producing about 200,000 gallons of hand sanitizer at Nebraska Innovation Campus. Hunter Flodman, associate professor of practice in chemical and bimolecular engineering at UNL, helped lead the effort, forming partnerships with the Nebraska Ethanol Board and private businesses to get production up and running. The product was given to organizations across the state—including long-term care centers and hospitals—for free.
“Every time we faced a challenge, we reached out,” Flodman said. “People were more than willing to help, whether that was within the university or within industry. Things moved at a really accelerated pace, because everybody knew the urgency of the situation.”
UNL’s response and support of Nebraskans during the COVID-19 pandemic haven’t stopped with hand sanitizer. 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.
Bob Wilhelm, vice chancellor of research and economic development, said, “Our faculty, our staff, our students—they’re problem solvers. They are interested in helping fight the pandemic, and 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.
“As Nebraskans, we help each other and we support each other,” says Flodman. “When someone can do something to help other people, other Nebraskans step up and do what they can.”