Face masks created by faculty members in the College of Engineering

Schools and Colleges Pool Resources to Produce Protective Gear

April 3, 2020

Factories across the globe are scrambling to produce as many face masks possible to help combat the spread of the novel COVID-19. The shortage of protective gear has put a strain on hospitals and essential workers who are exempt from stay-at-home orders, including health care and public health workers, law enforcement and first responders, food and agriculture workers, and others. And, as of April 3 Gov. Polis has requested all Coloradans wear face protection in public for the foreseeable future.

The problem is, the masks aren’t easy to make. That’s where CU Denver is stepping in to help. Faculty from four schools and colleges are using their resources to produce some form of face protection.

Creating a Community of Makers

A common thread is Inworks, an innovation initiative that draws together faculty, staff, and students from the CU Denver and Anschutz Medical campuses. Its members have led the charge in implementing the state and nationwide Make4Covid Community, comprised of makers, designers, industry experts, and healthcare professionals working together to support the urgent needs of healthcare workers and first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

So far, 1,200 Make4Covid volunteers from universities and colleges, industrial businesses, and K-12 districts across the Front Range have delivered 2,500 items of personal protective equipment to areas throughout the region, including rural Colorado. One of the destinations was Melissa Memorial Hospital in Holyoke—Chancellor Horrell’s very own hometown.

Much of the credit goes to Andrew Henderson, an Inworks lab manager at CU Denver and lead organizer of Make4Covid, who has worked nonstop since campus moved to online learning. His background includes running a non-profit that delivered medical supplies to Nicaragua. He’s focused Make4Covid’s work on not only coordinating “makers” but also ensuring work procedures are as clean as possible.

Read on to learn more about how CU Denver schools and colleges are helping fight the spread of the coronavirus.

College of Architecture and Planning 

The Architecture Department knew it would have limited access to its Design Fabrication Lab (Fab Lab) during the university closure, so 3D printers were sent home with student lab workers, lab directors, and student research assistants. Shortly after, Marc Swackhamer, professor and chair of Architecture, and his team identified drawings of mask components that could be downloaded and printed by anyone with a printer. 

Paul Stockhoff and Matt Gines, who direct and operate CAP’s Fab Lab, have worked tirelessly to coordinate efforts with Make4covid, Swackhamer said. In his own lab, Swackhamer is donating the time of his research assistant, Matt Hayes, who is now printing masks. Others in CAP are doing the same.

“Through Make4covid, we found a group of like-minded makers who could help coordinate our efforts and get the masks into the hands of our heroic medical personal who need them,” Swackhamer said. They hoped to produce 180 face shields by the weekend of April 3. They will assess how the first run goes and, in the meantime, seek donations of filament to produce more runs of material. Watch a video of CAP’s efforts here: https://www.instagram.com/p/B-aesSYl-84/.

College of Arts & Media

3D-Graphics & Animation Professor Howard Cook has joined forces with Inworks and Make4Covid to produce medical face shields. 

When he heard about the need through Inworks, he set up his personal 3D printer, which he used for creating puppets for a 3D-stop-motion short film, to create the plastic components needed for the medical shields. Since Thursday, March 26, he has created about 40 components using strict quality control standards. Medical experts from the Anschutz campus provided instructions for sanitizing his machine, materials, and work space. The coronavirus can hide in crevasses, so there can be no flaws in production. 

Cook is currently using his own supplies while Make4Covid secures donations—and he’s encouraging his students to join the force. Many of them have the equipment to help.

“As a designer and a maker, we are hard wired to think about the impact our work has,” Cook said. “At this point I can think of no greater an impact than working to provide our frontline medical care givers the armor they need to help prevent them from succumbing to this deadly virus.”

College of Engineering, Design and Computing

Inworks and CU Denver’s Bioengineering Department are working diligently to produce protective gear for local hospitals and agencies. They are utilizing Inworks’ space at 14th and Larimer Streets to manufacture protective face shields and masks, and faculty from Bioengineering are designing and testing the products at the Anschutz Medical Campus.

One of those faculty members is Chelsea Magin, PhD, assistant professor of pulmonary sciences and critical care medicine. Magin has led her students in efforts to make masks for National Jewish Health in Denver. This includes designing prototypes, cutting wire for the nose bridge fittings, and working with collaborators at the hospital to ensure the masks fit.  

Magin and her students are now working to scale up the ability to test the masks and best filter materials in Bioengineering on both campuses, according to FDA standards. See recent local news coverage on their efforts here.

School of Education and Human Development

Lucinda Soltero-Gonzalez, assistant professor in Literacy Education, is taking efforts into the hands of her own family. When they learned from their neighbors and friends who work in health care about the shortage of face masks, they decided to look for ways to help. “We found a group of parents in the Broomfield area who two weeks ago started an initiative called Operation: We Can Sew It, which has brought together over 2,500 volunteers sewing cloth masks to benefit Saint Joseph Hospital and SCL Health during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Soltero-Gonzalez said. 

Her family is using a sewing machine to make homemade face masks that can provide some respiratory protection for the health care professionals. “This has been a great opportunity to show our children that a small contribution by many people can have a tremendous impact for the common good,” Soltero-Gonzalez said. 

Interested in joining Operation: We Can Sew It? Visit here for more information.