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Aryan Gupta sat on the living room floor of his home somewhat in disbelief.
In front of the junior from Lambert High School were components for about 130 face shields, the parts of which had been created by classmates, friends and teachers from around the county using 3D printers, drill presses and other machinery that week. With gloves on, Gupta and his family assembled the face shields over the course of a few hours. The next day, they would be delivered to Northeast Georgia Health System (NGHS), in Gainesville, for doctors, nurses, physician assistants and other staff dealing with the outbreak of COVID-19.
All for less than $1 per face shield.
“We’re just trying to help as many people out as possible by making these low-cost devices that we can manufacture really quickly,” Gupta said.
Gupta is a member of the iGEM club at Lambert. The group’s motto is “making science frugal.” Each year, they design a cost-effective solution to a real-world medical dilemma. Last year, they created a sensor to help doctors in underdeveloped countries detect and treat infectious diseases. This year, they planned to build a bead homogenizer for $25 (they normally cost $2,000 to $3,000), but those plans were dashed when schools shuttered about a month ago as the novel coronavirus pandemic began to unfold in the U.S.
With no project on the horizon, Gupta and the iGEM team decided to start a new one, one that might be helpful to workers on the front-lines of the pandemic. They realized that most team members had 3D printers or other tools at home, so they quickly pivoted to making face shields for health care workers on the front-lines.
The group started small, just two or three of them, and led by Gupta they 3D-printed frames and customized clear plastic sheets to make 30 to 40 face shields. Off they went to NGHS.
The success spurred them on to do more. Now, Gupta is leading a group of about two dozen students, teachers and community members between Lambert and Forsyth Central high schools who pull their tools and expertise together.
Last week, they manufactured over 200 face shields for NGHS.
“That was a huge deal,” Gupta said, “just to show that this is something we can do and actually make an impact.”
The group has hit obstacles along the way, but, in true iGEM fashion, they’ve managed to find resourceful solutions at every point.
The first design they used for face shields was popular worldwide but also costly, so not a good option for high school students. They consulted with NGHS officials, who provided them with a design more widely used in the U.S. that used less material, stood up to regular use by health care workers and met infectious control standards.
Lately, supplies of the clear plastic sheet they use for the shields have been hard to come by. So they’re trying to get access to sheets of laminate at local schools. They figure laminating four sheets together would make for a sufficient -- and cheap alternative -- for shield material.
Gupta and the team hope to continue to grow their manufacturing capacity, getting more people with 3D printers and machinery at home to contribute to the effort -- all to help local health care workers remain protected from the virus they’re helping to fight.
“Some of these hospital systems are going through hundreds of face shields a day,” Gupta said, “to a point where anything we can produce is very helpful for them. That’s kind of the harsh reality that’s happening with the coronavirus. They’re running really low on supplies … they have to reuse this equipment.
“We’re just trying to help out.”