Engineering solutions: A story of swabs and ventilators

LLNL Scientist(s)
Chris Spadaccini,
Eric Duoss,
Angela Tooker,
Jack Kotovsky,
Allison Yorita
Stan Hitomi
Teacher's School
Alamo School (retired)

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for testing supplies (most especially nasal swabs for sample collection) dramatically exceeded the available supply.  To address this shortage, researchers from universities, companies, medical schools, and national laboratories came together to rapidly engineer a new solution to this problem – 3D printed swabs.  Across the country, hundreds of new swab designs were rapidly being fabricated using a wide array of 3D printing technologies and materials.  At LLNL, in addition to 3D printing some of these designs, we began developing protocols to ensure they would be safe to use in patients and could collect sufficient sample to enable testing for the virus. The results were disseminated to the broad national community and helped to build confidence in the performance of the swabs, ultimately leading to a new supply chain to fill the demand gap.

As news of the spreading COVID-19 pandemic sent the Bay Area and the nation into shelter-in-place orders in March, engineers at LLNL stepped up to utilize the problem-solving skills normally exercised in their day-to-day jobs to assist in the pandemic response. Upon hearing about the potentially catastrophic shortfall of ventilators as well as the difficulty in quickly ramping up production of these ventilators, a team of engineers and scientists at LLNL formed to design and build a functional and safe ventilator from components sourced outside the medical device supply chain. In fewer than three months, LLNL and industry collaborators designed, built, and tested a ventilator that was granted Emergency Use Authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In this talk, we will describe and demonstrate how the ventilator works and its application in COVID-19 patients. We will also detail how the engineering design process guided the design of the ventilator.



Christopher M. Spadaccini received his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees from the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is currently the Division Leader in the Materials Engineering Division in the Engineering Directorate at LLNL. He has worked in advanced additive manufacturing process development and architected materials. He founded several new fabrication laboratories at LLNL for process development focused on micro and nano-scale features and mixed material printing as well scale-up for higher throughput. He has been a lecturer at the San Jose State University where he taught graduate courses in heat, mass, and momentum transport. Currently, he is an adjunct faculty member at the University of California, Davis.


Eric B. Duoss received dual B. S. degrees in Chemistry and Mathematics from St. Norbert College and a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from University of Illinois. He is currently a Group Leader and Research Engineer at LLNL, where he conducts research in the areas of advanced materials and manufacturing. At LLNL, Dr. Duoss leads teams that invent novel materials and manufacturing processes, with focus on creating designer architectures for chemical, mechanical, thermal, and functional properties for applications in the fields of defense, climate, transportation, energy, aerospace, human health, and others. Dr. Duoss is a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering (2016).


Angela Tooker received her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the California Institute of Technology and currently runs the Advance Manufacturing Laboratory at LLNL. For more than 15 years, she worked in microtechnology process and material development for development of in vivo and in vitro platforms for the study of neural networks. This included the development of neural implants for the treatment of a variety of neurological disorders.  More recently, Angela has been researching mechanical properties of additively manufactured materials.


Jack Kotovsky received a mechanical engineering Ph.D. from UC Davis in 2005, a business degree from Le Collège des Ingénieurs in Paris in 1993 and mechanical engineering B.S. and M.S. degrees from M.I.T. in 1990 and 1992. Dr. Kotovsky is an Engineer at LLNL and the leader of the Micro and Nano-Technology Section. His research includes the creation of mechanical, optical and electronic devices for biomechanical research (rehabilitative, orthopedic and brain injury).  His most recent research includes traumatic brain injury instrumentation and research, non-invasive biomedical and weapons sensors, and a novel ventilator to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.


Allison Yorita received her B. S. in Chemical Engineering at Brown University and her Ph. D. in chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she worked on creating and characterizing microfabricated devices to detect neurotransmitters and nucleic acids. She is a Staff Engineer at the Center for Bioengineering and Center for Micro- and Nanotechnology at LLNL. Her research focuses on flexible implantable probes for neural research, as well as the integration of chemical sensors onto these probes to detect neurotransmitters in the brain.


Stan Hitomi retired in June after 31 years as a teacher, principal and district administrator for the San Ramon Valley Unified School District. Stan is a Carnegie Scholar, served two terms on the Community Advisory Panel for Station KQED, and has been the co-chair for the Teaching and California’s Future Task Force and founding chair for the California Teacher Advisory Panel.  Stan has been at LLNL for over 25 years as an intern and faculty scholar. He was the Executive Director of the Edward Teller Education Center (ETEC) at LLNL from 2002-2006.