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Alma College Professor Creates Protective Equipment for Healthcare Workers

Argueta-Diaz uses the college’s 3D printers to make face shields and mask extenders.

Victor Argueta-Diaz with Alma College's 3D printer. ALMA — An Alma College professor is utilizing resources at the college to build face shields and mask extenders for healthcare workers at the front lines defending against COVID-19.

Victor Argueta-Diaz, an assistant professor of physics and pre-engineering coordinator in Alma College’s applied physics in engineering science and pre-engineering programs, is using 3D printers at the college to create 15 face shields and 35 mask extenders a day. The protective equipment has been distributed to workers at Masonic Pathways and MidMichigan Medical Center-Gratiot in Alma, along with other healthcare institutions.

“When the pandemic reached Michigan, I contacted different health organizations trying to find a way to help with 3D printing equipment,” Argueta-Diaz said. “We didn’t exactly know how to contribute during a medical emergency like the pandemic. It’s been interesting to work through the issues that have come up and find a way to help out.”

Argueta-Diaz first became inspired to help when news broke about the national shortage of N95 face masks, which are used by healthcare workers because they filter at least 95% of airborne particles.

Just this past year, Alma College’s Dow Digital Science Center added new 3D printers and a 3D scanner, in part to help teach courses for a new applied physics. The college has also recently added a major in engineering science.

However, Argueta-Diaz realized when he dug into the project that N95 masks require a type of filter that he could not replicate with a 3D printer. He considered creating swabs, which could be used to test for COVID-19, before learning those could only be manufactured in a certified laboratory.

Finally, after speaking with acquaintances in the healthcare field, he settled on face shields and mask extenders. A post on Facebook about the masks attracted a lot of attention, Argueta-Diaz said, including requests for more masks.

“The mask extenders are a game changer to save our ears from getting torn up by the loops on the masks,” one person commented on the Alma College Facebook page. “Thank you so much!”

Argueta-Diaz said he would like to produce more face shields and mask extenders, but he is operating at capacity, as 3D printers are not necessarily designed for mass production.

However, the people who do receive them have shown their appreciation and the project is a good learning opportunity for Alma College students.

“This past semester, I was teaching a class in digital fabrication and fast prototyping. Originally the final project was to build an artifact that would help someone with some kind of physical disability. When classes went online, I gave the students the option to change the project to design a face shield. I hope students realized there are very real applications of the skills they learned during this semester,” Argueta-Diaz said.

Story published on May 04, 2020