Rider University chemistry professors make hand sanitizer for area hospitals

Jamie Ludwig makes hand sanitizer at a lab at Rider University.

Chemistry professors at Rider University are making their own hand sanitizer in school labs and donating it to area hospitals. This week, their first 10-liter batch of hand sanitizer is set to be delivered to Capital Health Medical Center in Hopewell.

“Everyone wishes they could do something right now, even just to stay busy and have a purpose,” said Jamie Ludwig, an assistant professor of chemistry. “I hope this will be helpful.”

Ludwig produced the hand sanitizer at the urging of colleague Danielle Jacobs, an associate professor of chemistry. Jacobs had seen news reports of facilities retooling to meet the demand of the hand sanitizer shortage. Last month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lifted restrictions to encourage licensed pharmacists, distilleries, and others to create their own hand sanitizer.

“This is something that we should do,” Jacobs says. “There are so many people on the front line when we are limited to being home. I’m grateful that we have access to these valuable resources during a time when they otherwise would be going unused.”

Ludwig volunteered to make the batch since she is one of the few professors with permission to be on campus right now. She has been visiting the lab at the university to maintain bacterial cultures for her research.

The professors followed the guidelines and procedures from the World Health Organization and created a hand sanitizer using ethanol, hydrogen peroxide, glycerol, and sterile distilled water, which are all common lab items. Ludwig said that at first, the process took longer than it should have as she worked to get the right proportions.

Jacobs is ensuring the final batch maintains the proper concentration of alcohol, which is the active ingredient in hand sanitizer. The concentration must be between 60% and 90% to be effective.

“If the concentration is too low, it won’t kill germs effectively,” Ludwig said. “If the alcohol concentration is too high, it can evaporate too quickly and be ineffective, and it can actually shock the microorganisms without killing them.”

The hydrogen peroxide works as an antibacterial agent, and the glycerol creates the familiar gel-like consistency that makes hand sanitizer easy to apply.

Jacobs and Ludwig hope they will have the opportunity to make more hand sanitizer, at least until Rider’s current supply of ethanol runs out, and possibly beyond.

“We want to use what we have,” Jacobs says, “but we are open to working with people who have chemicals, sterile storage containers and even equipment to donate. That would help us contribute to smaller community organizations who, like hospitals, play a huge role in keeping our community healthy and safe but are too often neglected.” 

The first batch of hand sanitizer will be delivered to Capital Health Medical Center in Hopewell this week.

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