Here Are the Ways Science and Tech Experts Can Volunteer to Help With the Coronavirus Response

Calling all scientists and engineers

A photo of a 3d printer.

IfIf you’re a scientist, engineer, or health professional, part of your training is to serve society. You might be wondering in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic how you can help when you’re working at home. Here are actions you can take as an individual in your community and online, as well as organized efforts by scientific and technical organizations that you can take today in the United States.

There may be similar efforts internationally, and I encourage those who are aware of such initiatives to add these to the response section (along with any efforts in the United States that I might have missed). I’ll then edit the main article to add them in. As of now, I found that scientific and technical volunteer efforts fall into five categories: digital, challenges, human resources, manufacturing, and education.


The Covid Tracking Project

This project tracks the positive and negative results, pending tests, and total people tested for the virus as reported by states and local governments. The CDC is not reporting all this data, nor are all states necessarily providing it. So the project needs people to listen to press conferences, watch the news, contact sources, and find emerging databases to try to find this information. It’s also looking for individuals who have the specialized ability to request records from their state governments. Volunteer needs are changing constantly, so go here to see what expertise is needed and here to fill out a Google form to volunteer. You can follow this Twitter feed for regular updates.

U.S. Digital Response for Covid-19

This group, led by former government and corporate technical leaders, is signing up health care, data, engineering and product development, general management, operations, supply chain/procurement, and other technical volunteer experts to help government officials at the national, state, and local level. State and local governments need help collecting and collating data from private and public testing facilities, developing self-assessment digital products for the public to use before going to a testing center, and tracking hospital data on bed and ventilator capacity. Sign up.


Covid-19 Open Research Dataset Challenge (CORD-19)

This A.I. challenge is hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Allen Institute for AI, the National Institutes for Health, and other research organizations. The medical community has posed key questions from a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report and a World Health Organization R&D Blueprint. The A.I. community’s goal is to then develop and use text and data mining tools to answer these questions. Winners for each task can receive $1,000 or donate it to Covid-19 relief research efforts. See all the challenges and sign up.

Covid-19 Challenge Grant

Have your own idea? Then get on the ball as the Aspen Tech Policy Hub is taking applications until March 30 for $15,000 grants to support your idea to mitigate the short- and long-term effects of Covid-19 over three months. Examples include mitigating cybersecurity risk for shuttered small businesses, providing data analysis to health care workers, using virtual reality to mitigate social isolation, and providing automated outbreak updates for the public. Submit your idea.

CoVent-19 Challenge: Innovate 2 Ventilate

This is a virtual open moonshot eight-week competition begun by Massachusetts General Hospital to develop a rapidly deployable mechanical ventilation solution. Volunteers should create teams for a two-round challenge, with final designs completed by June 2020. This is a global effort in partnership with manufacturers and distributors who will produce the winning design. Sign up and get more details.

Human resources

Crowdfight Covid-19

You can volunteer to help speed up Covid-19-related research by providing support for certain tasks, such as data entry. A Covid-19 researcher submits a request to the website for a task that can be delegated. A volunteer then takes up that task so the researcher can focus on the tasks that need their unique skill set. A coordinator is assigned to find the right volunteers for tasks; they can also look for specialized reagents, find experts to solve a challenging problem the research group is facing, and crowdsource answers to routine and open questions from leading experts. Sign up to volunteer.

COVID-19 Pandemic: U.S. Scientist Volunteer Database

If you are interested in helping your state or local community with testing and other needs and have laboratory skills (e.g. RNA extraction, qPCR, ELISA) or access to equipment or reagents, then you can register with the U.S. Scientist Volunteer Database. The leadership then provides your contact information, on request, to state and local leaders in your community. This site is also collecting information on groups of scientists organizing in their communities. Sign up to volunteer.


NanoHack: The Open Respirator Mask

International nanotechnology experts are helping out by using their knowledge to manufacture N95 masks and parts. At the time of this writing, NanoHack asks that you don’t use their current design, because they’re working on an updated one. The newest design will include a downloadable source file that scientists and engineers with 3D printers and the proper supplies can use to manufacture masks. Read more details, and follow #hackthepandemic on Twitter.

3D Printing

The 3D-printing community is already hard at work helping in the fight against the coronavirus. Two Italian engineers produced 100 respirator valves for ventilators at their local hospital in 24 hours using their equipment. Local scientists and engineers with 3D printers may be able to provide similar services to their communities. Read OneZero senior writer Dave Gershgorn’s tips on finding the best designs and how to keep your workplace clean.

Face Shields

Engineers are coming up with ways to quickly manufacture face shields for their communities. The Engineering Design Lab at the University of Wisconsin came up with a design for a face shield after receiving an urgent request from the university’s hospital. Once hospital staff approved the design, the lab posted it as an open source design for others to use. Ford is now planning to use this design to produce 75,000 shields for Detroit-area hospitals. San Francisco’s Exploratorium is also making face shields for hospitals in its area.

Hand Sanitizer

A chemical engineering lab at the University of Pittsburgh repurposed its equipment to manufacture hand sanitizer to donate to the local medical network. The sanitizer is produced according to World Health Organization standards using donated chemicals (more are needed). Word is spreading through the chemical engineering and chemistry communities, so expect to see more of these mini-laboratory manufacturing activities.


Skype a Scientist

Many students today are out of the classroom due to the coronavirus. You can help teachers who are trying to meet the unexpected need for an online curriculum by speaking to students via Skype. This program is not limited to laboratory scientists—it also includes engineers, social scientists, museum and zoo professionals, and doctors. This is a global initiative, not limited to the United States, and there are options to speak to classes in many languages. Sign up to volunteer.

Ask a Scientist

This site, supported by the Federation of American Scientists and the National Science Policy Network, has an informative coronavirus Q&A for the public in English and Spanish. Get more information and volunteer.

You can also provide support by just being a good citizen of your community, as recommended by Engineers and Scientists Acting Locally (ESAL), where I first learned about many of these ideas. Consider helping out with blood drives or food donations, collecting N95 masks from your lab to bring to your local hospital, and volunteering to speak virtually for your local school. And perhaps you can volunteer not only your own time but also encourage and organize your colleagues to do the same.

Finally, consider connecting with your local policymakers and asking how they think you and your colleagues can best contribute your scientific and technical skills, whether it be answering phone calls for people with questions about the coronavirus or putting together a spreadsheet to support local businesses.

We can all pitch in to do what we can with the resources and time we have available. You can read about yet more ways to contribute regardless of your scientific or technical background in another article I have written: Here Are the Ways You Can Volunteer to Help Science and Tech Experts With the Long-Term Coronavirus Response.

Dr. Deborah D. Stine is a freelance consultant, policy analyst, writer, video producer, professor, and study director in science, tech, and innovation policy.

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