LEWISTON — A team of staff and faculty at three Maine colleges is using 3-D printers to create visors for face shields to help protect emergency personnel from the potentially deadly COVID-19 virus.

Andrew Mountcastle, assistant professor of biology at Bates, wears a face shield incorporating 3-D-printing technology. Submitted by Bates College

Andrew Mountcastle, a biology professor at Bates College in Lewiston, helped put together the initiative with colleagues at Bowdoin and Colby colleges in Brunswick and Waterville, respectively, to address a shortage of personal protective equipment that has first responders and medical staff throughout Maine trying to cope with a supply shortage.

He said when he realized the potential for using 3-D printers to create badly needed equipment for health care providers and first responders, “for me it was a no-brainer.”

“I feel it’s the least I can do to support members of my community and state who need it most,” Mountcastle said, according to a news release from Bates.

The visors turned out by the colleges’ 3-D printers are being distributed by the Androscoggin County Emergency Management Agency starting next week, according to Bates.

In addition to the visors, the college noted that its facility services gave 25 cases of hand sanitizer to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston and its biology, chemistry, and geology departments “more than 160 boxes of nitrile gloves, as well as sanitizer and surgical masks” to the emergency management agency.

The agency’s director, Angela Molino, said it is appreciative of the assistance because many items of personal protective equipment are not easily available.

“We have received some items, but supplies are limited globally so sourcing them locally is extremely helpful,” Molino said, according to the Bates release.

The Dingley Press has also chipped in with protective gloves for the county agency that assists first responders and others in the area.

“I think there’s a pervasive narrative that a lot of people tend to respond in selfish ways” during a crisis, Mountcastle said. “But when I look around, I see the opposite — I see just countless examples of people coming together to help one another.”

Face shield visors 3-D-printed by Bates College’s Branden Rush. Branden Rush, Bates College

Mountcastle has looked into other 3-D printing options as well, mentioning on social media that he recently printed “some respirator designs for our local hospital to evaluate.”

The shield printed by the colleges comes from an open-source design adapted from an existing product by a group led by Design That Matters, a Washington-state firm that designs medical devices for global health in low-resource settings.

Requiring only a 3-D-printed visor, an elastic cord and a transparent plastic sheet, it’s been endorsed by the National Institutes of Health.

“You just punch the transparency with a three-hole puncher and it snaps onto three pins that come out of the visor,” Mountcastle said.

The open-source design used by the Maine group was adapted by a group led by Design That Matters, a Washington-state firm that designs medical devices for global health in low-resource settings,” according to Bates.

For the project, Mountcastle worked with Bates’ 3-D printing experts Branden Rush and Cori Hoover, academic technology consultants with the college’s information and library services division. They each began making visors this week.

At Bowdoin, Erin Johnson, a professor of art and digital and computational studies, and David Israel of its academic technology division, have been running a printer day and night.

A biology professor at Colby, Joshua Martin, has been reaching out beyond the academic community in Waterville for 3-D-printing capacity, Bates’ release said.

Bates has been using 3-D printers to make parts for theater stage sets and to create classroom models in science courses.

Mountcastle has embraced 3-D printing so much that the biology department’s 3-D printer “lives in his lab,” Bates said.

“I’ve used 3-D printing, probably, in most of the courses that I’ve taught at Bates,” he said. “It’s a really powerful technique for conducting controlled experiments, because you can design a model and then change one aspect of that model while keeping every other morphological parameter the same.”

In one course, Mountcastle said students designed sponges to test in a water flume to study fluid dynamics.

“With a couple presses of the button, they can double the pore diameter” without changing any other aspect of the sponge, he said.

Mountcastle said the colleges’ effort to help deal with the coronavirus crisis fits with Bates’ purposeful work initiative that encourages students to seek a sense of meaning in what they do — to put their values into their working lives.

“This is an example of how I can put purposeful work into play for myself,” Mountcastle said.

“I appreciate having that opportunity, and also to demonstrate that for my students, because it makes that philosophy more real for them,” he said. “And so I feel very fortunate that I’m able to support members of the community in this way at this time.”


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