Ph.D. candidate creates no-touch thermometers to address shortage

headshot of cameron pinnock and the no-touch thermometer
Cameron Pinnock and the no-touch thermometer he designed.

Cameron Pinnock, a Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering at Wayne State University, joined his fellow Warrior engineers in creating equipment that makes the jobs of healthcare workers easier and safer in the midst of the pandemic. 

For him, the inspiration is personal. His father is a physician who was sent home to quarantine when the clinic in which he works was temporarily shut down by the Wayne County Health Department after a patient tested positive for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) days after his stay at the clinic. 

“(My dad) needed to check his temperature three times a day and the termometer he was using wasn’t working. We tried to order some online, but they were all sold out. So, I decided to make him one.” 

Pinnock, who studies tissue engineering and nanomedicine, heard from friends in healthcare that local clinics were in need of no-touch thermometers to screen employees and patients but were unable to order them due to a nationwide shortage. 

Not a new technology, no-touch thermometers were widely used during the Ebola outbreak and were originally designed for industry, “from manufacturing to firefighting” (2014, National Public Radio). 

Pinnock thought he could help with the shortage in his community, added “no-touch” as a criterion for his design, and ordered more parts. Only once they arrived, did he realize he had to conduct more research on how to gauge core body temperature. 

“I found a study conducted by NASA, which allowed me to create an algorithm to calibrate the thermometer to more accurately measure the core body temperature.”

He did the research, constructed the thermometers, 3D printed the no-touch thermometercases, and delivered four of the prototype to the first clinic within a week. The second batch took longer, about 2-3 weeks due to a scarcity of parts and delays in shipments. 

“It felt like an arms race,” he said. “I noticed that after I ordered a critical component online, the same part sold out shortly after.” 

After Pinnock heard Gov. Gretchen Whitmer expressing a need for no-touch thermometers in one of her public addresses, he contacted the State of Michigan and recently donated another batch. 

“It feels good to know you helped people,” he said. “Especially when it is a tool to help make their job easier and a little safer. This is why I became a biomedical engineer--to better provide healthcare workers and patients with the tools that give them more peace of mind.” 

He has no plans to slow production. 

“Especially since certain businesses will be opening back up soon. (The thermometers will) help ensure the safety of people.”

By Kristy Case, web editor/writer for the Wayne State University Graduate School. 

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