Jim and Kaitlin Grinias make hand sanitizer with Rowan-donated materials. Photo / Rowan Today

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered everyday life and individuals are urged to stay at home to maintain social distancing precautions. For one Rowan University professor, this provided an opportunity to help make a difference all while maintaining social distancing.

Rowan University Assistant Professor of Chemistry James Grinias and his wife Dr. Kaitlin Grinias, a chemist at pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, heard news reports about hand sanitizer shortages and knew they could use their skill sets to help.

“I heard about the need and was inspired when I found out that distilleries were shifting production so they could make hand sanitizer,” Professor Grinias said. “I knew we would have the supplies on hand to do something similar.”

For Professor Grinias, choosing a career in analytical chemistry isn’t just a way to make money, it’s a passion. One that has shown to have practical uses during this national emergency.

“I had my first analytical chemistry class during my first semester in college and have been hooked ever since,” Grinias said. “My favorite part is coming up with new ways to measure chemicals so that we can learn more about the world around us and more about what is inside of us.”

Under usual circumstances, Professor Grinias’ lab bustles with the sounds of research projects and academic instruction in his analytical chemistry laboratory course. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, students and lab assistants coexisted in harmony to achieve academic success.

But weeks into New Jersey’s shelter-in-place order, the scene inside the lab looked very different as only the Grinias’ worked to produce the hand sanitizer. The duo followed online instructions from the World Health Organization, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration to produce 20 gallons of hand sanitizer.

To prepare 10 liters of product, the recipe called for 8333 mL of ethanol, 417 mL of hydrogen peroxide and 145 mL of glycerol, according to a guide from the World Health Organization. To produce 20 gallons, a little more than 75.7082 liters, they’d need a whole lot of supplies.

Professor Grinias worked with departments in Rowan’s College of Science & Mathematics to secure the materials needed to produce the needed quantities. When the process was finished and all of Rowan’s materials were exhausted, all 20 gallons of hand sanitizer were delivered to Cooper Medical School of Rowan University in Camden, New Jersey to be passed along to health professionals at Cooper Hospital.

Even with Professor Grinias’ efforts, there is still a constant need for the disinfectant. Grinias is hoping to produce more hand sanitizer to help do his part in the face of this public health crisis.

“Some groups have indicated a willingness to donate to help the cause. I think everyone recognizes there is a need to do what they can to help,” Grinias said.

“The community has come together in a grassroots effort, and the administration has stepped in to do whatever they can to make sure that things are done more efficiently and as safely as possible. One of my lab students, Josh Davis, has chipped in to help print masks based on the designs made by George Lecakes,” Grinias said, referring to a student-led project to produce washable 3D-printed masks that medical professionals can use in a pinch if they don’t have access to personal protective equipment. “People are truly coming together and it shows how strong the Rowan University can be in a time of need.”

Professor Grinias’ efforts should be seen as a model of leadership in tumultuous times, but a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry isn’t a necessity for individuals to contribute to the cause.

“The easiest thing that people can do to help out is to properly follow social distancing guidelines so we can get through this crisis faster,” Grinias said. “That’s why I worked with my wife on this project. She’s the only person I don’t have to social distance from since we live together.”

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