Makers with heart

MakerSpace staff support those on the frontline

group of doctors wearing face shields

Health care workers at SUNY Downstate Medical Center wearing face shields made at the NYU Tandon MakerSpace. 

The NYU Tandon MakerSpace has always been a place where unformed ideas could become actual designs and designs could become working prototypes — a place where the spirit of making, doing, collaborating, and hacking for social good thrives. 

As it turns out, that spirit is so strong that not even a global pandemic can dim it. There may not be many people there lately, thanks to New York City’s stringent rules on physical distancing, but Tandon’s makers have taken the COVID-19 crisis as something of a call-to-arms (if you consider 3-D printers, laser cutters, and sewing machines arms), and they’re bringing all their problem-solving abilities, tech-savvy, and creativity to bear on the challenges now facing the medical community and the general public.

Victoria Bill, the founding manager of the MakerSpace; Elizabeth New, MakerSpace Assistant Manager; and Christina Lafontaine, MakerSpace Design Specialist, selflessly make their way to the MetroTech Center several days of the week to meet the demand for these projects and others.

Face Shields at lightning speed 

As a member of the NYU COVID-19 Task Force, the MakerSpace is steadily churning out laser-cut face shields and the 3-D printed bands that allow them to be worn comfortably by frontline healthcare workers. The shields, based on a design created by researchers and doctors from across NYU and made available on an open-source basis, can be produced and assembled in under one minute, and Bill has overseen the production of more than 1,900 shields to date, which have been distributed to about a dozen area hospitals.

sheet of face shields being produced

The Universal laser cutter at NYU's MakerSpace can cut 12 sheets for face shields at a time

“Medical students from Langone have volunteered to deliver the shields,” Bill says, and our own MakerSpace assistant manager, Liz New, who lives near Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, personally delivered many shields to medical workers there.

The parts are necessary to the whole

Bill has counted on the efforts of mechanical engineering student Andy Garcia and Gabriella Cammarata, an Integrated Digital Media graduate who now serves as the program’s studio research coordinator. Although dispersed geographically, the two immediately sprang into action to help whenever she called upon them. 

When the hospital received a shipment of powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs) to be used as protective devices for doctors and nurses, for example, they discovered that there is a clip that holds a facemask in place that can break during the round-the-clock use they are getting.  PAPR clip

3D printed prototype of a powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) clip

They had a batch of units that were needed urgently but that couldn’t be placed into service without this replacement part. They sent a few of the original pieces to Bill, who took measurements and sent them to her willing volunteers. They, in turn, worked backwards to create accurate 3D models to print the needed replacements, and to date, the MakerSpace has delivered hundreds of the clips. “Because the N95 masks that we’ve been hearing so much about don’t fit everyone’s face, PAPRs are one possible solution,” Bill says, “so we’re happy to be playing a small part to keep those working.”

Helping faculty innovators to innovate

Many faculty members immediately began working to create new devices to solve the pressing problems being faced by the nation’s hospitals — including retrofitting salon hair dryer hoods to create portable personal negative pressure hoods that could contain the airborne virus and ensure healthcare workers can safely provide care. And when a faculty member needs help with creating parts and prototypes, they know they can turn to the MakerSpace to laser-cut filter box parts and 3D print filter tubing adapters

Community extends beyond the physical space

The Design Lab, the educational programming arm of the MakerSpace, can still fairly be described as bustling, despite the lack of in-person events. Thanks to the efforts of Anne-Laure Fayard (Associate Professor of Technology Management and Innovation and Faculty Advisor to the Design Lab) and Christina Lafontaine (the MakerSpace’s Design Specialist), students are still getting ample chance to ideate, experiment, prototype, and build their ideas, albeit remotely. 

“We’re still keeping very busy,” Lafontaine explains. “Besides working with the NYU COVID-19 Task Force to produce needed items for hospitals and medical personnel, we've also been able to pivot and move all of our events and workshops online, and we have an extensive lineup.  We’ve launched a new series of fireside chats Engineering X Design, where we invite professionals at the intersection of design, technology and engineering. We are also creating a podcast series to document the key learnings.”

Fayard explains the motivation for not simply closing up shop until everyone returns to campus. “Maintaining a sense of community has always been vital to us, and it is even more crucial now than ever before. Social distancing means physical distance but not social disconnection,” she says. “Students seem to feel the same because we’ve even seen an increase in attendance at our workshops. It’s nice to see that the collaborative and community-centered culture we have been nurturing is more vibrant than ever.“

row of 3d printers in makerspace

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