Chemistry department leverages available resources for hand sanitizer production

As universities across the country pool resources to tackle pressing challenges brought on by COVID-19, individuals in the Chemistry department at Vanderbilt are currently underway on the development of one resource in high demand: hand sanitizer.  

Brought together by Chemistry department chair John McLean and assistant professor Janet Macdonald, a team of Chemistry faculty and staff are currently developing the very first batch of sanitizer for immediate deployment across Vanderbilt, with an eye on later shipments to teams at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and other local hospitals.

“I, like many others, at first felt unable to contribute meaningfully to the efforts going on in our community to help stop transmission of the virus,” said Macdonald. “This effort is a way that I can put my skills as a chemist to good use and help others. After all, if there is anything a chemist knows how to do well, it’s mixing things together!”

The Vanderbilt chemistry department made hand sanitizer from supplies the department had in storage, in an effort to help the greater community. (Joe Howell / Vanderbilt University)

To make the sanitizer, the team received a green light to use existing ethanol stores and other available resources, including bottles, available in the Chemistry supply rooms. With the right ingredients and equipment already on hand, McLean, Macdonald and their collaborators registered the details of their efforts with the Federal Drug Administration and began making the first batch – around 80 gallons worth.

Macdonald notes that without the well-stocked store rooms on campus, the team would not have been able to tackle the issue efficiently or move through the process so quickly.

“We were just lucky to have a lot of the most important ingredients of hand sanitizer sitting around, waiting for the labs to start up again,” she said. “We all have to use our resources wisely at this time, and so it is imperative that these resources, which many may not even realize exist on our campus, are also employed and deployed where they are needed most.”

The team will start by passing it out to a few departments at Vanderbilt that have already told Macdonald they need it, including Public Safety, Plant Operations, Dean of Students, Child Care and Dining Operations. 

“We are ready to make much more if our colleagues at the Medical Center let us know they need it. Our goal is to make sure anyone who needs hand sanitizer to do their job safely at Vanderbilt has an adequate supply.”