While universities have moved classes online and sent most students home, some are still finding ways to help during the COVID-19 crisis.
At Virginia Tech, a team of 75 students and faculty are developing and manufacturing protective equipment and medical supplies—things like face shields and small connectors for oxygen therapies.
Prototypes are tested, refined and certified with the help of groups like Carilion Clinic's infection control unit. Student Liam Chapin said one lesson is that equipment that's been designed and put in use in other places might not be suitable locally. Chapin's also been looking for ways to make the production process more efficient and reduce the printing time.
The finished products are put to use by hospitals and first responders. Professor Chris Williams says the requests have come from all over the state. "In the New River Valley, we’re talking thousands of these reusable and cleanable shields," Williams said. "And we are producing those on campus. We’re producing those in student’s apartments. And then the invitation’s out there for the entire community if they have 3-D printers to bring those shields to ramp up production."
The team has published instructions and files so people with consumer-grade 3-D printers can join the effort. The team is collecting printed frames and shields on campus twice a week, then sterilize the equipment before it's distributed.
Graduate student Genevieve Gural has been working on the oxygen connector and respirator projects. The work required “lots of input from many, many people across campus, some who never thought their expertise would be used in this kind of way," Gural said. "But we’re all just trying to do our best to help how we can.”
Radio IQ is a service of Virginia Tech.