Virginia Tech professor finds the 'key' to staying germ-free

Posted at 7:30 PM, Jun 17, 2020

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Face masks and gloves have become a necessary part of our everyday lives over the past three months.

As the coronavirus continues to spread, local educators are finding news ways to keep us safe. You may even say that Ryan Pieper, an associate collegiate professor at Virginia Tech, found the "key" to staying germ-free.

Pieper, who teaches and oversees the workshop facilities at Virginia Tech’s Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center (WAAC), designed and created a key that allows one to open doors and use touchscreens hands-free.

"This does two things: it opens up doors with a finger pull and it will also allow you to hit buttons," he said.

Pieper said he had seen other people making similar keys and posting about their success online, but he wanted to create his own version.

After a few prototypes, he landed on one that works best. "I recommend producing these out of 1/8" brass (260 Alloy)," Pieper said. "The copper found in brass adds an antimicrobial component that other materials do not offer."

The idea is to cut down on the spread of germs by minimizing how often people touch shared spaces.

"I know this isn’t going to solve all of the problems, but it's a step to ensuring safety for everyone," Pieper said.

Knowing his design could help others, he's releasing his blueprints. He wants to give everyone the option to make the keys themselves, or bring the prototype to a trained professional. He said local craftspeople are likely in need of some help right now.

Photo: Ryan Pieper

"There has been a reduction in manufacturing across the United States because of this pandemic, and there are machine shops all over the states that have the capabilities of making these things that are in need of work," he said.

He said it's important to support local businesses, and making his design open-sourced is a great way to do that.

In addition he said the keys, which can generally fit in any pocket or keychain, are easy to disinfect and don't scratch the surfaces they touch.

With many medical experts warning of a second wave of COVID-19, he said, "Why not make one and be prepared for it?"

Who knows, it could just be the key to staying safe.