If you happen to follow any PUI Chemistry professors on social media, you’ll know that one of the more depressing aspects of the pandemic has been its devastating effect on undergraduate research opportunities. Summer research programs have been canceled and – obviously – any projects started during the first half of the now-finished semester were squashed.
Or were they?
My research group – Bespoke Scientific Instrumentation Design (BSID) – is build around the premise that scientific instrumentation should be more broadly accessible. Typically, what we mean by accessible is open hardware and software designs that allow end-users to customize instrumentation to fit their research directives or to lower the price point of entry-level instrumentation to facilitate educational research opportunities. However, in these virus-stricken times, accessibility has taken on a new meaning.
Do a web search on 3D printing and COVID, and you’ll find endless examples of the 3D printing industry (both commercial and hobbyist) mobilizing to create personal protective equipment (PPE) in response to the severe shortages that many countries face. If you have any experience with 3D printing, helping out is as simple as downloading the design files (such as this one for face masks or this one for face shields), sending them to the printer, and waiting 3+ hours for the printer to do its job.(*)
So when Tim of Adirondack oral and maxillofacial surgery contacted Zak Robinson, my colleague over in the Physics department, and lamented his inability to secure PPE for his staff, Zak and I got to work. Both of us use 3D printing in our teaching and research activities at SUNY Brockport, and when the pandemic shut down the campus for the remainder of the semester, we each brought home our printers so we could carry on with our making.
It sounds like the CDC is going to recommend that everyone wear face masks to help fight spread of the coronavirus. Now, since the government is incapable of handling the most rudimentary of supply chain issues (probably because a few senior officials refused to recognize the thread), we are supposed to make our own. Fortunately, we can. Rozenn and I made some for the droids too. No one knows how the virus affects droids, so best to be on the safe side.
I’ve got my 3D printer, a Prusa MK2, up-and-running in my home office. I followed these instructions for making a mask and this design for the face shield. Both designs are reported to be printable without the use of supports or other fancy settings, so I loaded them on the build plate and off I went. After 5 hours of printing (3 for the mask, 2 for the shield) I ended up with this.
I’m surprised at how well these designs printed with no modifications needed. I’ve got some temperature calibration to tweak because both designs have overhangs that printed poorly but only affected the aesthetics of the final object. Double sided tape worked just fine to keep the document transparency in place. I’m now ready to fight the coronavirus … or clean the litter box.