Clarksville, TN – While still leading a statewide effort to produce face shields for medical workers battling the spread of coronavirus in Tennessee, the Austin Peay State University (APSU) Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Center has taken on another potentially life-saving project.
The center’s staff and its students have developed and are testing prototypes of 3D-printed respirator face masks for frontline medical personnel.
The center’s director, Mike Wilson, thinks that despite the challenges of producing a respirator with the proper filtration, the center soon will have a mask it can produce and send to medical workers.
“Unlike the shield, a mask has more medical requirements including fit/comfort and filtration ability,” Wilson said. “A proper mask will provide a tight seal on the face and filter small particles (I believe 0.3 microns for viruses).”
The APSU GIS Center is looking for available materials to use as the filter in the masks.
“This is difficult due to the filtration needed, as well as the supply,” Wilson said. “We’re trying to come up with a mask that acts like an N95 (respirator) mask.”
The respirator masks also take longer to print than face shields, he said, presenting another problem in producing them in a fast-moving crisis.
Leading statewide effort to produce face shields
When Tennessee Governor Bill Lee asked colleges and universities how they might help make protective equipment for health care workers, Austin Peay State University President Alisa White asked if the GIS Center could answer the call.
“I’m not a medical professional, but I am a technology person, and if we can use technology to assist, we need to do that,” Wilson said. “I had a heart attack in November, and a doctor saved my life. If I can help them out and pay that back, I want to go ahead and do that.”
The state sent the design to several colleges and universities across Tennessee, and they joined Austin Peay State University in a 24/7 operation to produce the face shields.
Austin Peay has led this effort from its genesis, and the GIS Center delivered its first shipment of face shields to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) on Wednesday, March 25th.
As of Monday, April 6th, the GIS Center at Austin Peay State University has shipped 24 boxes containing 864 face shield frames and nearly 9,000 face shields to the TEMA, Wilson said.
Students step up to ‘help those who are protecting us’
In addition to the students who already work at the GIS Center, seven APSU students stepped forward to help with the effort. They are Ciara Grandberry, Elijah Henderson, Lakiyra Holt, Dacorian Lockhart, Brady Rhoton, Kenneth Shipley and Jonathan White.
“I saw on the news about what GIS was doing and I just had to be a part of it,” Holt, a biology major, said. “I wanted to help out because of all of the doctors, nurses, scientists who are risking their health for the world.
“Joining GIS could help protect those who are protecting us,” Holt continued. “My main concern right now is with those who are helping the sick get through this.”