A group of faculty and students at Virginia Tech led a massive effort to produce thousands of face shields for nurses, doctors, and first responders in the Roanoke and New River valleys who are on the pandemic's front lines.

“It’s very heartwarming to see people who are willing to sacrifice what personal time they have to make sure that people are safe in this pandemic,” said computer science graduate student Liam Chapin. “These people are not here because they are forced to be. They are here because they think it’s the right thing to do.”

After learning of Chapin's efforts, Alex Leonessa, director of the Terrestrial Robotic Engineering and Controls Laboratory, combined efforts which included a dozen of Virginia Tech students, including a team from the Honors College.

As of mid-May, the group had produced and distributed more than 4,000 shields to employees at Carilion Clinic and Lewis-Gale facilities, as well as other health and emergency professionals, cited Liam Chapin, lab manager of the Field and Space Experimental Robotics (FASER) Laboratory on Virginia Tech's Blacksburg campus.

When Chapin, who has six 3D printers in his Blacksburg apartment and access to a laser cutter and other equipment in Faser Lab, suddenly found himself with plenty of time on his hands, he decided to develop the first face shield prototypes.

“Why not use these resources to help with the COVID-19 effort,” he asked himself.

Liam Chapin holds the 3D print and laser cut face shield produced in the FASER Laboratory. Photo: Peter Means for Virginia Tech.
Liam Chapin holds the 3D print and laser cut face shield produced in the FASER Laboratory. Photo: Peter Means for Virginia Tech.
The team worked on multiple rounds of design for the 3D-printed and laser-cut face shields. Photo: Peter Means for Virginia Tech.
The team worked on multiple rounds of design for the 3D-printed and laser-cut face shields. Photo: Peter Means for Virginia Tech.

First, researchers worked closely with local health care professionals, who approved the designs and helped ensure that the finished product would meet stringent infection-control requirements.

Then, the team solicited volunteers throughout the region who had access to 3D printers, which are necessary for creating one version of the shield's headpiece. A second version of the shields uses a foam headpiece rather than a 3D-printed band. A laser cutter is required for cutting sheets of plastic. 

Chapin said he’s witnessed an outpouring of support from the student body, among both those in the lab and those who’ve contacted him to offer help. “I am proud to be a part of this effort, proud to have risen to the challenge along with my teammates, and proud to be doing my utmost to keep people safe,” said Chapin.

— Adapted from articles written by Jenny Kincaid Boone for Virginia Tech Magazine and Virginia Tech News