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A Collaboration of Engineering and Medical Students to 3D-Print Masks for Healthcare Workers in Virginia

Last Updated: May 6, 2020


To answer the call for more reusable PPE, Dr. Rick McKenzie and Nahom Kidane, engineers at Old Dominion University (ODU) in Norfolk, VA, decided to utilize online open-source models to 3D-print N95 masks. They worked alongside a collaborator at the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters (CHKD) to explore the practical use of the 3D-printed masks for healthcare workers, and once approved, recruited the help of a team of medical students. 

First, they printed and created prototype masks from the open-source “Montana mask” template. Nahom Kidane, a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Computational Modeling and Simulation Engineering at Old Dominion University, was responsible for creating the prototypes. Kathleen Kelly, MS2 at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and Norfolk native, worked alongside Mr. Kidane to optimize the prototypes. The prototypes passed fit testing and were approved for use at CHKD. To assist in the scaling up of production, MS1 medical students Sam Stephenson, Sarah Birk, and Vivian Burton from Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) were recruited to help with mask assembly, testing, and final quality checks. Given the success of the first delivery of 28 masks (within two weeks of concept design), the operation will continue to scale up production. In addition to CHKD, the team will now provide masks to the Sentara health system, producing dozens of 3D-printed masks per week for the healthcare community. Mr. Kidane is responsible for community outreach with individuals with 3D printers and optimizes the scaling of various masks parts when engineering challenges arise. Kathleen Kelly was responsible for project coordination: supplying materials, contacting the infectious disease department at CHKD, and organizing volunteers. The EVMS medical students were responsible for assembling the masks: attaching face strips, applying the acrylic, attaching straps, final check and cleaning. To accommodate the extended nature of the Covid-19 pandemic, EVMS students will also take over project coordination as of mid-April. Their participation allows for planning of industry-like production, and their feedback provides critical insight into project improvement. Additional members of the ODU faculty are 3D printing masks and assisting with laser cutting of filters. Dr. McKenzie oversees the entire project and is working on providing quantitative evidence of the efficacy of the masks. 

A learning point in this endeavor for the medical students is to understand the intricacies of engineering and evaluating products for clinical use. For example, after printing, we cover the outer surface of the masks using an acrylic spray to ensure a complete seal. However, if too much acrylic is applied, the caps on the mask are too tight and must be made larger to allow for removal. Additionally, we are learning about the creativity inherent to engineering; Hector Garcia, a researcher at ODU, made improvements to the mask by laser cutting the filters, ensuring a more sterile environment and accurate seal. To improve the reusability of the mask, he also created a small tab for easier removal. Partnering engineers with medical students in various sectors allows engineers to optimize a novel product with the practical input of medical students who can communicate the clinical perspective. Such collaboration ensures innovation and greatly needed medical supplies that can be made available to medical professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Sarah Birk, MPH, Eastern Virginia Medical School (birkse@evms.edu)