NJIT designers fabricate masks, shields and swabs to battle COVID-19

David Hutter | ROI NJ

Members of the New Jersey Institute of Technology community – engineers, physicists, advanced manufacturing specialists and students – are designing and fabricating devices to help address the shortfall in medical supplies needed to combat COVID-19.

A team in the Makerspace at NJIT said Monday it designed and manufactured a prototype of a face shield that can be used by various emergency workers.

The front of the mask is a long piece of clear polycarbonate plastic, while the frame is made from HDPE plastic – the material used in plastic milk bottles – which pathogens have difficulty clinging to. The shield covers most of the face and is held in place by a simple strap. It can withstand even industrial grade cleansers.

“Our goal was to build something as cleanly as possible that is easily sanitized and reusable,” said Daniel Brateris, director of experiential learning at NJIT’s Newark College of Engineering (NCE), in a prepared statement. Cutting the masks with lasers from sheets of plastic, rather than 3-D-printing them, allowed the effort to avoid the “little cavities that develop when objects are built up layer by layer,” he said.

By early April, the team plans to send a batch of 100 shields, put together in safely spaced assembly lines, to New Jersey state agencies for testing. While requests for supplies have begun flowing in at a steady clip, NJIT didn’t wait for them, said Moshe Kam, NCE’s dean.

Additionally, the Makerspace team is working with a group from a public hospital in Michigan on a field ventilator for short-term use for patients waiting for standard ventilators to become available. They also are reviewing a request from a hospital in Ohio to make specialized vent filters.

NJIT’s fabricators are collaborating with researchers, including as part of NJIT’s partnership in the New Jersey Alliance for Clinical and Translational Science (NJ ACTS) led by Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, on studies that will, for example, better elucidate the rates and risk factors for transmission of COVID-19 among health care workers.

NJIT physicists John Federici and Ian Gatley and their team are developing a swab that will be used in a study at Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences that seeks to characterize the factors related to viral transmission and disease severity in a large health care system, both in health care settings and in health care workers’ households. The swabs, which are mostly 3-D-printed, will be used to collect serial biospecimens over a six-month period from a cohort of 500 health care workers and 250 age- and sex-matched staff members outside of clinical settings, all from within the same health care system.

NJIT’s Albert Dorman Honors College sponsored a design competition for both face shields and masks. Students were directed to follow CDC guidelines to ensure regulatory compliance and to use specified materials, and nearly two dozen took up the challenge. The winner of the face shield contest, whose design was approved by a regional medical system, produced more than 500 shields that were delivered to the Valley Hospital in Ridgewood. The winner of the mask competition sent 100 triple-cotton masks to Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan.

With requests flowing in, the Honors College is following up with a competition to build shields and masks for local emergency responders and other area hospitals as well.

NJIT labs also are donating supplies. In the early days of the regional surge in coronavirus cases, researchers emptied their closets of hundreds of gloves, goggles and gowns to donate to the Essex County Office of Emergency Management.

“As we respond to COVID-19, while keeping the well-being of students, faculty and staff at the forefront, NJIT is still operating. We are rethinking our approaches and making difficult decisions in real-time, from moving all our classes online, to carrying out our business functions remotely, to conducting our research computationally and sharing our laboratory supplies with our local community,” said NJIT Provost Fadi Deek.

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