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Annette Engel and Audrey Paterson unload supplies they donated to a local health agency.

After reading news reports about shortages of personal protective equipment and laboratory supplies, Annette Engel, the Donald and Florence Jones Professor of Aqueous Geochemistry, and Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences lab manager Audrey Paterson contacted Brian Gard, director of emergency management at UT, to donate materials from previous projects in their interdisciplinary research lab in Strong Hall to health agencies in need.

Supplies collected to donate.​“We’ve been reading about some of the COVID-19 testing limitations, and we wanted to reach out to offer lab resources that might help with local testing and management efforts,” Paterson said.

“Some of the supplies are left over from a decade of field-based projects that focused on ecosystem responses to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in Louisiana,” Engel said. “Other supplies are left over from a project studying the ecology and water chemistry of caves around Knoxville. Individually, a few Tyvek suits and a couple of boxes of gloves might not seem like much, but pooled together, we have nine suits and 51 boxes of gloves to donate, plus 182 swabs, concentrated cleaning supplies, and other items.

“I couldn’t let another day go by thinking about items like that in my lab, left over from old projects and just taking up room on the shelves, or equipment not being used presently for research because we are scaling back,” she said.

Engel studies how microbes interact with rocks and minerals over time and how those interactions affect natural systems. She studies the interactions that happen in caves, aquifers, hot springs, sediments, and coastal marine habitats like marshes and sea grass beds, as well as relationships between microbes and animals including insects, clams, and alligators.

In the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering, Elizabeth Barker, assistant professor, gathered up her supply of gowns, gloves and face masks and delivered them to UT Medical Center.

“I have several collaborators and friends at the medical center,” Barker said. “When I heard on the news there could be shortages in supplies nationwide, I got permission from Tammy Johnson, our departmental business manager; Kivanc Ekici, interim department head; and Matthew Mench, interim vice chancellor for research; to share our supplies from the departmental teaching lab and my research lab. I think we donated almost 800 gowns and 5,000 gloves. My students and I are working from home until it is safe to continue our experiments.”

The departments of ecology and evolutionary biology, microbiology, and psychology donated their supply of N95 respirator masks and other personal protective equipment to local medical personnel as well.

Campus units that have materials that can be donated to health care workers and laboratory facilities should contact Jeff Wattenbarger (, 865-974-3120), who is coordinating the university’s efforts.


Karen Dunlap (865-974-8674,

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