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ISU Architecture Students Make Face Shields To Help Healthcare Workers During Pandemic

Christopher Gannon
courtesy of ISU
ISU student Bryan Dellett looks over a pair of finished visor frames.

Architecture students at Iowa State University are using design and fabrication skills honed in the Computation and Construction Lab to support healthcare workers in Iowa during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most of the campus is quiet as classes are on-line and faculty and staff are expected to work from home. But a handful of undergraduates has permission to work in staggered shifts to create face shields. They responded to an invitation from assistant professor of architecture Shelby Doyle.

Doyle says as she started hearing about possible shortages of personal protective equipment in the news, she also began seeing discussions about designs and methods for 3-D printing face shields.

“And so I thought, I have students who are contracted as student employees through the end of the semester and we have 30 3-D printers in the department of architecture that possibly could contribute somehow,” Doyle says.

Her students have been learning about design, physical fabrication and 3-D modeling in the lab. She asked eight students if they wanted to come back to campus and see whether they could make face shields. They all said yes.

“The opportunity to get to do something that is applicable to the real world in my college career has been an absolute honor,” says Anna Lukens, a fifth-year architecture student who plans to graduate this semester. “And this has been really interesting research and I feel like we’re going to be able to actually help some people with it.”

The lab is not approved to produce medical-grade equipment so the shields can only be used as secondary protection for workers not treating COVID-19 patients. The hope is that having face shields in that context will free up some of the medically important protective equipment for use where it’s most needed.

The first 300 shields are ready for distribution and Doyle says the goal is to make 2,000.

Alliant Energy has provided money and logistical help to support the project and get the shields to hospitals and clinics in Iowa.

“If there’s a silver lining to this (pandemic),” Doyle says, “it’s that we have a moment where all of these research and work that we do that sometimes doesn’t have an immediate application, has an application right now.”

She adds that the project demonstrates the students’ skills, maturity and work ethic and she’s hopeful all of that might help them as they launch their careers amid an uncertain economy.

Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames