Space scientists have used their expertise in the development of life support systems for manned space missions to build a ventilator for use in the fight against COVID-19.

The Planetary Science Group based at the University of Aberdeen’s School of Geosciences has developed the device in response to worldwide efforts to produce more ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients.

Using certified and low-cost components which are commercially available for common use on Earth, the scientists believe the device – known as ATMO-Vent (Atmospheric Mixture Optimization Ventilator) – is quicker to build, more cost-effective and more user-friendly than any other model currently in development.

They are now working to have the device officially certified, so that it can be rapidly deployed in healthcare settings worldwide.

The design team is led by Professor Javier Martín-Torres, who heads the Planetary Science Group.

He said: “As a multidisciplinary research group specialising in Martian study, we have a wealth of experience in building, calibrating and qualifying space instruments using commercial components.

“We’ve used this expertise to design and build a fully operating prototype ventilator using widely available parts. This means that it is easy to build and ideally suited to rapid, mass deployment in healthcare settings. This will be especially useful in countries with underdeveloped healthcare infrastructure.

“The ATMO-Vent has been designed to comply with UK regulatory guidelines, and we are now in the testing phase as we seek industrial and healthcare partners to collaborate with us on its continued development.”

Professor Martín-Torres’s Planetary Science Group has recently arrived at the University and is renowned for its expertise in development of instruments for Earth and planetary exploration. For example, he has designed and built an instrument that will be used in a European Space Agency probe scheduled to fly to Mars in 2022.

The COVID-19 crisis has allowed the Group to put their skills to another use, albeit one which may one day be used as part of its usual activities.

“As a Group we have watched the spread of COVID-19 with growing alarm, and we wanted to use our expertise to help,” Professor Torres said.

“Our hope is that the ATMO-Vent’s cost-effective design and short development time means it can rapidly supplement the number of ventilators being produced my manufacturers.

“Looking beyond the current crisis, there is also the potential to scale the design for space applications by using it to implement and control artificial atmospheres, for example in space greenhouses and artificial habitats for future planetary explorations.”

Dr Dave Muirhead, Head of the University’s School of Geosciences, said: “The arrival of the Planetary Science Group in Aberdeen is an extremely exciting development for the School of Geosciences and the University.

“The Group’s track record in interplanetary research includes numerous high-profile research publications in leading journals, with an emphasis on remote observation, and atmospheric and planetary research on the Earth, Moon and Mars.

“Their skill in building high-quality instruments for use in planetary research is already world-renowned, and it is to their credit that they have used these skills to offer assistance in the COVID-19 effort.”

Marion Campbell, Vice Principal for Research at the University of Aberdeen, said: “Across multiple disciplines, our research community is working as part of a broad effort to harness our world-renowned academic expertise in the fight against COVID-19.

“The work of Professor Martin-Torres and the Planetary Science Group in developing this ventilator is a prime example of how our researchers are applying their skills to meet the challenges created by the pandemic.

“I commend their efforts, and as a University we continue to support our research community in its response to the challenging circumstances we find ourselves in.”

As a Group we have watched the spread of Covid-19 with growing alarm, and we wanted to use our expertise to help. Our hope is that its cost-effective design and short development time means it can rapidly supplement the number of ventilators being produced my manufacturers.

Author: Professor Martín-Torres

Notes for Editors

Notes for Editors

A technical video, presented by PhD students Thasshwin Mathanial and Miracle Israel Nazarious, who have designed the ATMO-Vent under the supervision of Professor Martin-Torres, is available to download here.

Also available via the same link are a selection of still images along with footage of the ATMO-Vent undergoing EMC (ElectroMagnetic Compatibility) testing earlier this week. The purpose of this testing is to ensure the device does not emit electromagnetic interferences, and that it functions as intended in the presence of other electromagnetic emissions.


The ATMO-Vent has been designed by a team including PhD students Thasshwin Mathanlal and Miracle Israel Nazarious of Luleå University of Technology (LTU) in Sweden, supervised by Professor Martin-Torres along with Professor Maria-Paz Zorzano (also currently of LTU and the Centre of Astrobiology in Madrid). It has been designed to comply with the requirements outlined in the UK Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency guidelines to build a Rapidly Manufactured Ventilator System (RMVS). The ventilator is in the fully operating prototype stage awaiting certification of all hardware and software components. Once Certified, the design can be scaled and reproduced quickly. The design team are also in the process of submitting an article in HardwareX (Special Issue on Open-Source COVID19 Medical Hardware), describing the procedure to build and operate ATMO-Vent.

Planetary Science Group

Recruited last year as part of the University’s 2040 strategy which seeks to enhance its status as a world leader in research, the Planetary Science Group is focused on the study of Earth and planetary atmospheres and the development of instruments for Earth and planetary exploration.

The Group’s research activities include the publication of research findings in reputed journals and the communication of its research to public and policy makers. Over the past five years the group has published more than 170 papers in leading journals including Science, Nature and PNAS.

Recently the Group published a Mars-related study based on research in Chile’s Atacama Desert that was one of the top 100 downloaded microbiology papers for Scientific Reports in 2019.  The Group has also developed the HABIT (HAbitability: Brines, Irradiation and Temperature) instrument scheduled to fly in the European Space Agency/Exomars 2022 mission to Mars, and in 2018 it had the largest number of participants in European Space Agency Academy programs of any other research Group in Europe.

PublishedMonday April 20th, 2020