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Students are creating a handless door handle to help stop the spread of COVID-19

A student-led project is taking the germs out of door handles.

SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. — A student-led project has been working to create door handle adaptors that would make opening a door germ-free.

The hard work behind this project is done by students interested in STEM at the Suncoast Science Center Faulhaber Fab Lab in Sarasota.

“I think the experiential learning that is provided here is something you don’t get anywhere else,” said Donna Leigh-Estes, the operations and business development director at Suncoast Science Center.

The project derived from an effort to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and give back to the community.

“If you can, just for a few dollars, strap something on and bam you’re good, all the better,” Henry Tingle said.

Tingle is one of several students working on this project, which started over the summer. He graduated from Pineview High School, where he often volunteered at the Suncoast Science Center. Now he’s getting his PhD at the University of Florida, while also making time to help his hometown with COVID-19.

“It’s just math on paper until you do something with it,” Tingle said. “And we got to do something with it, and it’s really cool!”

By breaking into research, design and prototyping teams, they were able to create a couple of different types of handles that work with different styles of doors across various businesses and organizations.

They have done everything from scratch, including designing the handles, using computer-aided drafting software, to 3-D printing prototypes, to even creating their own silicone molds to cast the handles using different types of antimicrobial metals and materials.

“It’s all a probability game and so if you get to a certain number of germs or an amount of the threshold that gets you sick,” Tingle said. “As long as you can lower that number effectively over the course of a lot of businesses, you lower a lot of people getting COVID.”

The adapter is meant for you to use another body part, like your wrist, to open a door rather than your hand which carries a lot of germs.

“It promotes the whole idea to, you know, being aware of that you’ve got a lot of germs on your hands most of the time and try to decrease that spread of germs,” Claire Wang said.

Wang is also a graduate of Pineview High School, and now a first-year mechanical engineer student at UC San Diego. She helped lead the team of younger students on this project.

The adapter sounds like a simple concept, but the process behind it isn’t.

“We used a silicone mold to create a form for the actual handle, and then we poured in epoxy and resin with copper powder to set; and then it will form a whole piece, so you can attach to the door handle,” Wang said.

Copper has the ability to kill viruses and bacteria. This is not a new concept. It happens on contact with no cleaning supplies.

“The physical working thing that’s going on here is not necessarily new, but it’s application to a door handle is what’s new,” Tingle said.

Not only did they have to get the shape and materials used just right, they wanted to make sure it wasn’t expensive.

“We didn’t really try to work into creating like a whole autonomous system to install on every door in the community,” Wang said. “We wanted something that was more cost-effective and would be able to be easily given and used.”

The end goal is to serve the community with this tool. They’re reaching out to local businesses and organizations to test the handles on their buildings and provide feedback.

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