Clarksville, TN – When students return to Austin Peay State University (APSU) this fall, they’ll likely clean their hands with home-made sanitizer from the APSU Department of Chemistry.
That’s because University officials decided to tap their own resources last month when the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic made hand sanitizer – an important tool in combating coronavirus – almost impossible to find.
“We have everything we need in a chemical laboratory to do these types of things,” Dr. Lisa Sullivan, chair of the APSU Department of Chemistry, said. “While the commercially available products have proprietary ingredients, basically what they are is chemicals, and we have those and can order them. They’re not in short supply.”
In April, Austin Peay State University’s Campus Police announced they were down to their last bottle of hand sanitizer. Clarksville’s Old Glory Distillery had donated several bottles to the department, but APSU officers – often encountering high-touch areas – quickly went through that supply. During a Zoom meeting, Michael Kasitz, assistant vice president of public safety, asked if anyone could help.
“I had my lab manager start experimenting, because that’s what we do as chemists – experiment,” Sullivan said. “We made some for campus police. It wasn’t my favorite but they needed it immediately. The first batch had too much glycerin; it was oilier, took too long to rub in.”
Knowing the entire campus would need hand sanitizer when classes resume this fall, the chemists went to work perfecting their product. They found a winning recipe using ethanol, hydrogen peroxide and glycerin.
Now, Sullivan is scrambling to find enough bottles to contain the sanitizer. The University has ordered several reusable bottles, and once they arrive, the department will begin filling them with the APSU-made sanitizer.
Those bottles will be made available to students, faculty and staff when they return to campus this fall. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend regularly washings hands to prevent contracting the new coronavirus.
“We want people to feel safe when they return to campus,” she said. “And it’s what we do. If we didn’t step up to do something like this, it would be awfully embarrassing. That’s the Austin Peay State University way, not just the Department of Chemistry.”