BLACKSBURG, Va. (WFXR) – Students and faculty at Virginia Tech are stepping up to create face masks for health care workers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We want to help those who are helping us,” says Dr. Chris Williams, professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech.

By utilizing the Design, Research, and Education for Additive Manufacturing Systems Laboratory (DREAMS Lab), which specializes in various innovative processes like 3D printing, Williams and a team of five graduate students are aiming to design a mask that performs at the N95 level or better.

Williams is one of several faculty members working on a coordinated response to the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), a need that became apparent during the COVID-19 crisis. While healthcare facilities in southwest Virginia have yet to experience the shortage, Williams and his students knew they had to be prepared.

“We have a motto at Virginia Tech: Ut Prosim, which means ‘that I may serve.’ We do whatever we can to help the community around us. This is what it’s all about,” says Dr. Williams.

Since the university announced the transitioning of its courses online, Williams and his students began meeting virtually through Zoom to discuss ways on addressing potential PPE shortages.

To create the masks, the team has been working with experts from multiple departments across campus.

A pattern of the masks is formed over a plastic sheet in a process known as vacuum forming. Once the mold is constructed, it is then cut out and installed with a filter to allow for multiple uses. Through the rapid process of 3D printing, students can make up to five masks every two minutes.

Local healthcare facilities have already taken interest.

Carilion Clinic has expressed need for a mask that can be worn during use of a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Standard N95 masks have a strip of metal lining them and taking them out can lead to them falling apart.

A Blacksburg clinic has also shared its supply of N95 filter materials for use in the masks.

The team hopes to ramp production within the next week, making a total of 200 masks in 10 days.

Williams says the masks designs will be available for not just communities in southwest Virginia, but for areas throughout the globe.

“The design files that we’ve created are all digital. So we can email these designs to other communities, so as their needs arise, it’s not Virginia Tech making masks for the whole world. It’s actually we share the designs so that they can make them themselves,” says Williams.

The production of the masks is just one of a dozen projects conducted by Virginia Tech to help address the needs of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ve recently delivered reusable filter shells to the Roanoke Fire-EMS, and that’s another design we’ve created. We’ve been able to disseminate to them so they could immediately put them to use to keep both their patients and the employees within the ambulances safe,” says Williams.

To learn more about the projects the DREAMS Lab is leading or assisting, visit their website here.

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