Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Spartans are helping professionals on the frontlines by raising funds and contributing resources to make 3D-printed personal protective equipment, or PPE, including N95 masks and face shields.
Michigan State’s Chinese Faculty Club has raised more than $31,000 to help the community combat COVID-19. According to their GoFundMe page, the funds will be used to acquire PPE gear and help local people who are at an economic disadvantage due to the shutdown of businesses.
“We realized that it's very difficult to get the supplies in the U.S. right now, there's just so much demand,” Xuefei Huang, president of the Chinese Faculty Club, said. “What we can do is use our connections because we have a lot of members here, use our connections in the U.S. to identify the sources for the supplies and in order to do that we needed a fund.”
Huang, also an MSU Foundation Professor and chemistry and biomedical engineering professor, said the club has donated more than $10,000 of medical supplies to Sparrow Hospital, McLaren Greater Lansing Hospital and to some local clinics. They plan to continue their efforts.
"We are very happy and very impressed by the response of our community that we were able to reach this much of funds,” Huang said. “But on the other hand, as I'm talking to the hospitals, I realized that their need is far greater than that. So we hope that the community continues to donate the funds and we'll be able to do more for the hospitals and local people in need.”
Dr. Nathan Tykocki, a pharmacology and toxicology assistant professor in the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine, said the MSU Office of Environmental Health and Safety sent out a request to the research laboratory for any PPE gear available to be donated to the university and local health centers.
"We're simply hoping to be able to help the medical community,” Tykocki said. “I'm in (the) College of Osteopathic Medicine but I'm not a clinician. I'm a Ph.D. in science, I'm a researcher. I can't help people in the clinic but what I can do is use the tools that they do have to do something other than just staying at home.”
The team decided that printing N95-styled masks wasn’t the right fit for what they envisioned, and in order to get effective results, they had to move fast and manage their time, Tykocki said. But he said there were some very good and validated face shield designs underway and that his team wanted to try those.
Tykocki said he met with the School of Packaging, which had access to the clear plastic for the shield, followed by the Department of Theatre and the College of Arts and Letters, which donated the first elastic that was used for the headband on the face shields. The printers came from multiple business units and Information Technology Services.
"This just rapidly multiplied and grew as more and more people around campus with 3D printers volunteered to help,” Tykocki said. “All over the campus, including the Lansing Makers Network, have volunteered to run their printers basically around the clock to make parts for these shields.”
As of last week, the team has donated about 1,000 of the face shields to health centers at MSU, as well as in East Lansing.
“As the needs change, now we have this huge and growing network of people with these printers that if the health centers decide there's something different that they want, we can stop on a dime and change to that, make that instead with very little problem at all,” Tykocki said.
Michael Savage, an MSU alumnus and the FIRST Robotics Coach at Romeo High School, said one of the ways they got involved was with the 3D printers the team uses to manufacture robotic parts. With the schools shut down, the robotics team was looking for a way to help.
“We have a handful of students and mentors on our team that had their own 3D printers, they were able to start printing," Savage said. “What we're really trying to do is make something that can help people. But with the supply shortages what we could do to either extend the life of their equipment or to help them be a little bit safer.”
The team started producing face shields that provided an extra layer of safety and also helped extend the life of the N95 masks, Savage said. The team then started distributing the 3D-printed face shields to their friends and family in the community.
“After that, it really took off. We ended up getting calls from all over the area,” Savage said. “I'm very impressed with what the kids and the surrounding community has been able to do. We got a lot of support through them. We ... had a GoFundMe that's really taken off.”
Savage estimated the team was able to send out at least 2,000 shields as of last week.
"It's incredible," Savage said. “I certainly owe it a lot to the support of our school district and our community. Everyone has been really eager to help. … I think it's a neat project because not only is it helping people or making people safe but it's also giving a whole group of people focus and a way to chip into the fight."
Editor's note: Department title was changed to chemistry instead of chemical engineering at 5 p.m on April 16.