University partnership with Mexico drives COVID-19 research forward

"Their passion to serve a community in need is driving them to work hard to research and develop solutions."

Ashley Rabinovitch - 06 July 2020

As the University of Alberta continues to leverage its vast research capabilities to fight COVID-19, two engineering students are emerging as key players in the effort.

Abraham Reyes-Yanes and David Baca Moises Lopez, both natives of Hermosillo, Mexico, enrolled in the Master's of Mechanical Engineering program with a desire to explore the frontiers of research in the Laboratory of Intelligent Manufacturing, Design, and Automation (LIMDA). "I knew I would encounter cutting-edge research here, and I wanted to be a part of it," says Reyes-Yanes.

Under the supervision of Dr. Rafiq Ahmad, the director of the LIMDA lab, Reyes Yanes and Baca Lopez are working to develop innovative solutions to the urgent need for more personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline workers. After spearheading an effort to create new 3-D printing technology for the past several years, Baca Lopez shifted his focus to printing PPE. Most 3-D printers only use one type of plastic materials, but he has devised a system that uses multiple materials in the same machine. Now, he and his team are using various types of plastic parts to print masks, respirators, and ventilators. "It's been exciting to be part of the effort to support frontline workers," says Baca Lopez. "Thanks to the U of A, I feel like I'm in the right place at the right time."

On another project in the LIMDA lab, Reyes-Yanes has spent the past several months designing a face mask respirator for frontline workers. "My contribution has been to help identify electronics and other components that wouldn't normally be used for this purpose and make them function well together," he explains. After months of development, his team developed a respirator model that combines parts from a 3D printed face mask, a battery-powered air blower, and a filter system. "This project has given me an opportunity to help care for those who are doing so much for the world," says Reyes-Yanes. From the perspective of Dr. Rafiq Ahmad, Reyes-Yanes and Baca Lopez are both making a crucial contribution to the LIMDA lab. "Their passion to serve a community in need is driving them to work hard to research and develop solutions," he says.

Both students have been recognized as among the top students in Mexico, having won prestigious and highly competitive scholarships from the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACyT). Supported by the Mexican government, CONACyT creates opportunities for Mexico's best and brightest to pursue research-based graduate programs at highly-ranked partner institutions abroad, with the expectation that their scholars will return to Mexico to apply their knowledge for the benefit of the country.

According to Dr. Cen Huang, Vice Provost and Associate Vice President for University of Alberta International, "students like Baca Lopez and Reyes-Yanes demonstrate the importance of longstanding ties with partners like CONACyT." Engagement with Mexico has been of primary importance to the University of Alberta and our relationship with CONACyT extends over 20 years. In that time, hundreds of Mexican students have completed their graduate studies at the University of Alberta with the backing of CONACyT fellowships."Many of our international students are making critical contributions to research projects that aim to confront COVID-19 and other critical global challenges," Dr. Huang affirms. "Their efforts will benefit Canada, their home countries, and beyond."