Alumnus important contributor in coronavirus battle

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NDSU alumnus Todd Pringle is a highly sought-after expert as the nation combats COVID-19. Among other things, his company is helping health care providers seeking to decontaminate and re-use their N95 personal protective equipment.

Pringle is the president of Lumacept Inc., which produces the only available coating designed to reflect germ-killing ultraviolet light, called UV-C. That’s important because the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit at the University of Nebraska Medical Center recently released a protocol showing that N95 respirators can be decontaminated with UV-C.

“The COVID-19 pandemic spiked global demand for N95 masks, causing severe shortages and forcing some healthcare providers to choose between reusing yesterday's contaminated mask or wearing no mask at all. The new decontamination protocol, coming from the home of the National Quarantine Center, was welcome news,” explained Pringle, BS ’94, electrical and electronics engineering; MS ’04, polymers and coatings science; PhD ’19, materials and nanotechnology.

The protocol calls for N95 respirators to be decontaminated with UV-C in a room painted with Lumacept. Previous research showed Lumacept was effective in reflecting UV-C into shadowed areas, while standard paint or wall coverings absorb ultraviolet light. 

Lumacept was spun out of Twilight Labs, a small North Dakota technology venture co-owned by Pringle and Brian Tande, dean of engineering at the University of North Dakota. Over the years, Pringle and Tande have collaborated with research universities, hospitals and private companies around the world on a variety of subjects, including visual neuroscience, horticulture, material science, product design, food safety, surface disinfection and biocontainment.

During the pandemic, Pringle has volunteered to help hospitals and other groups across the country that are working on the urgent implementation of UV-C systems for surface disinfection and decontamination. His expertise in germicidal ultraviolet applications and biocontainment also has been sought by Sanford Health and the North Dakota Department of Health, where he’s helping design mobile decontamination systems.

Pringle also is supporting the efforts of a newly formed group of academics from such institutions as the University of California, Berkeley; Harvard University; Stanford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The researchers have created n95decon.org, an organization intended to be a resource during the crisis. 

In addition, engineers and scientists from Apple and Ford have contacted Pringle looking for ways their teams might contribute. “It’s been amazing to see how quickly experts can find each other and form effective groups in this crisis,” Pringle said. “I’m grateful to be useful in this fight.”

Pringle and Tande are now in discussions with Michael Kessler, NDSU dean of engineering; Dr. Paul Carson, NDSU professor of practice and director of antimicrobial practice at Sanford Health; and other area experts, looking for additional ways to assist in the COVID-19 fight.

Twilight Labs is a side venture for Pringle and Tande. Pringle also is a manager at John Deere Electronic Solutions, where he is responsible for test laboratories and leading advanced technology teams in algorithms and human-machine interface technology.

He recently enrolled in NDSU psychology graduate courses, seeking his second doctorate and fourth degree from the university.

“NDSU education is a continual part of my life. NDSU has prepared me for the challenges of being an engineer, scientist and entrepreneur,” Pringle said. “And my network of contacts among NDSU researchers and leaders continues to open doors.”

Pringle and his wife, Stacey Ackerman, are longtime supporters of NDSU, with Ackerman serving as a trustee on the NDSU Foundation’s Executive Governing Board.