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STANDARDS

NGSS: Core Idea: ETS1.B

CCSS: Literacy in Science: 9

TEKS: 6.3A, 7.3A, 8.3A, B.3B

Helping From Home

How kids made essential gear for frontline health-care workers battling Covid-19

COURTESY OF KELLY JENSENIUS

PRINTING PRO: Brady Jensenius, 13, prints colorful forehead bands to create face shields.

AS YOU READ, THINK ABOUT how people used technology to solve a serious problem during the coronavirus pandemic.

Last spring, 12-year-old Harrison Holbrook found himself quarantined in his home in Rockland, Massachusetts. He and others around the world were practicing social distancing to reduce the chances of spreading Covid-19. Unfortunately, millions of health-care workers didn’t have that option. They were fighting the deadly new virus on the front lines. Harrison and other kids like him wanted to help—even though they were stuck at home— but how?

As the number of Covid-19 cases increased, many hospitals began running out of personal protective equipment (PPE). Health-care workers need to wear gear like masks, visors, and face shields to safely treat patients without becoming sick themselves (see Protective Gear). That’s because viral particles spread through the air when someone with Covid-19 coughs or sneezes. Other people can become infected if they breathe in the particles or touch a surface on which particles have landed and don’t wash their hands.

A family friend told Harrison that doctors and nurses really needed “ear savers.” Health-care workers were having to wear PPE for long periods of time. Ear savers make masks more comfortable by preventing them from putting too much pressure on the backs of wearers’ ears. Harrison started to make these PPE aids using his 3-D printer, a device that builds up layers of material to create solid objects. He was just one of thousands of volunteers who used this creative solution to produce the gear that health-care workers so desperately needed.

Last spring, 12-year-old Harrison Holbrook found himself quarantined. He couldn’t leave his home in Rockland, Massachusetts. He and others around the world were practicing social distancing. This would lower the chances of spreading COVID-19. Sadly, millions of health-care workers didn’t have that choice. They were fighting the deadly new disease on the front lines. Harrison and other kids like him wanted to help, but they were stuck at home. What could they do?

The number of COVID-19 cases increased. Many hospitals began running out of personal protective equipment (PPE). Health-care workers must wear gear like masks, visors, and face shields. Then they can safely treat patients without getting sick themselves (see Protective Gear). That’s because viral particles spread through the air when someone with COVID-19 coughs or sneezes. Other people can become infected by breathing in the particles. These particles can also land on surfaces. People can get sick if they touch those surfaces and don’t wash their hands.

A family friend told Harrison that doctors and nurses really needed “ear savers.” Health-care workers were wearing PPE for long periods of time. Ear savers stop masks from pressing into the backs of the ears. That way, the masks are more comfortable. Harrison started to make these PPE aids using his 3-D printer. The device builds up layers of material to create solid objects. He and thousands of other volunteers turned to this creative solution. It allowed them to produce the gear that health-care workers greatly needed.

PRINTING POWER

People buy personal 3-D printers to design and create things, from a new spatula to a personalized cell phone case. Most of the machines used at home are about the size of a microwave. A spool of plastic thread feeds into the printer. The printer melts the plastic and squeezes it through a tiny nozzle. The nozzle can move left and right, and up and down to distribute the melted plastic in a particular pattern (see How 3-D Printing Works). The device builds an object layer by layer—a process known as additive manufacturing, says Chantz Yanagida. He’s a mechanical engineer from Chattanooga, Tennessee, who maintains and repairs 3-D printers.

“It takes a long time, but you can print nearly anything,” says Harrison. For weeks, he and his twin sister, Emily, used their 3-D printer to churn out more than 500 ear savers. Whenever Harrison finished printing a new batch, Emily would package them and attach a thank-you note. Then she’d set the gear in a box outside for volunteers to pick up and deliver to hospitals, nursing homes, and other medical facilities.

People buy personal 3-D printers to design and create things. They might make a new spatula or a custom cell phone case. Most of these home machines are about the size of a microwave. A spool of plastic thread feeds into the printer. The printer melts the plastic and squeezes it through a tiny nozzle. The nozzle can move left and right, and up and down. It spreads the melted plastic in a certain pattern (see How 3-D Printing Works). Layer by layer, the device builds an object. This process is known as additive manufacturing, says Chantz Yanagida, a mechanical engineer from Chattanooga, Tennessee. He maintains and repairs 3-D printers.

“It takes a long time, but you can print nearly anything,” says Harrison. He and his twin sister, Emily, used their 3-D printer for weeks. They created more than 500 ear savers. Harrison would finish printing a new batch, and Emily would package them with a thank-you note. Then she’d set the gear in a box outside. Volunteers picked it up and delivered it to hospitals, nursing homes, and other medical centers.

COURTESY OF JENNIFER HOLBROOK

(1) HOMEMADE: Teens used personal 3-D printers to make protective gear for frontline workers fighting Covid-19. (2) FINISHED PRODUCT: Harrison Holbrook, 12, holds ear savers he printed at his home in Massachusetts. (3) ASSEMBLY LINE: Emily Holbrook, 12, prepares 3-D printed gear for distribution to medical professionals. (4) FRONTLINE HEROES: Harrison and Emily have supplied more than 500 ear savers to health-care workers.

PERFECTING THE PROCESS

Usually, companies work with teams of doctors and engineers to create PPE that’s safe to use in a health-care facility. But because of shortages, the U.S. government allowed amateurs to also make much-needed supplies for medical workers. Homemade gear may not offer the same level of protection as commercially produced products. So volunteers needed to make sure they chose good designs and assembled the PPE carefully in clean environments.

Many websites allow people to download digital designs for objects that can be 3-D printed. When it comes to PPE, says Yanagida, “One of the most important things to do is make sure that you’re looking at credible resources.” Optimally, doctors or medical agencies should have approved the designs. For example, the National Institutes of Health approved several 3-D printed designs for face shields, which were downloaded by thousands of people around the world.

PPE must be safe to use in a health-care setting. So companies usually work with teams of doctors and engineers to create it. But these much-needed supplies ran short. That’s why the U.S. government also allowed everyday people to make PPE for medical workers. Homemade gear may not protect as much as factory-made products. So volunteers needed to choose good designs. They also had to assemble the PPE carefully in clean surroundings.

Many websites offer digital designs for objects that can be 3-D printed. People can download the designs. For PPE, says Yanagida, “one of the most important things to do is make sure that you’re looking at credible resources.” The best designs are approved by doctors or medical agencies. For example, the National Institutes of Health approved several 3-D printed designs for face shields. Thousands of people around the world downloaded them.

Thirteen-year-old Michigan resident Brady Jensenius decided to 3-D print visors for face shields after his mom showed him an article about people printing PPE at home. Brady’s mom is a middle school principal. Brady remembered that her school, which was closed because of Covid-19, had several 3-D printers sitting unused. “I thought we should bring some home and print PPE for medical people,” says Brady.

Even after choosing the right visor, the printing process involved a lot of trial and error. Each visor took almost five hours to print. Some nights, Brady stayed up until 3 a.m. to finish a print job. At times, pieces of the printer would become unbalanced or a component would print wrong, and Brady had to figure out how to fix it. In a few weeks, he made about 18 visors. “Everyone can make a difference,” says Brady. “No matter what age they are or where they are.”

Thirteen-year-old Brady Jensenius lives in Michigan. His mom showed him an article about people printing PPE at home. So he decided to 3-D print visors for face shields. Brady’s mom is a middle school principal, and her school was closed because of COVID-19. Brady remembered that several 3-D printers were sitting unused at the school. “I thought we should bring some home and print PPE for medical people,” says Brady.

Brady chose a good visor design. But printing it still involved a lot of trial and error. Each visor took almost five hours to print. Some nights, he stayed up until 3 a.m. to finish a print job. At times, pieces of the printer would become unbalanced or a part would print wrong. Then Brady had to figure out how to fix it. In a few weeks, he made about 18 visors. “Everyone can make a difference,” says Brady. “No matter what age they are or where they are.”

INSPIRING OTHERS

In Maple Ridge, British Columbia, 13-year-old Quinn Callander started small, by printing out about three dozen ear savers. Then his mom posted a photo of him with his printed models. The image went viral, with more than 100,000 shares. Requests poured in, and Quinn started printing around the clock.

Thousands were inspired by Quinn’s efforts, and they offered to print his pattern on their own printers and donate the ear savers to their local hospitals and medical professionals. “I am surprised by the number of people who noticed and joined in,” says Quinn.

Quinn alone produced more than 2,000 ear savers. His advice for kids who want to support others in times of need: “If there’s anything that you feel like you can do to help, try your best to accomplish it,” he says.

Thirteen-year-old Quinn Callander started small. He printed out about three dozen ear savers in Maple Ridge, British Columbia. Then his mom posted a photo of him with his printed models. The image went viral, with more than 100,000 shares. Requests poured in, and Quinn started printing around the clock.

Quinn’s efforts inspired thousands of people. They offered to print his pattern on their own printers. Then they would donate the ear savers to their local hospitals and medical workers. “I am surprised by the number of people who noticed and joined in,” says Quinn.

Quinn produced more than 2,000 ear savers himself. He has advice for kids who want to help others in times of need. “If there’s anything that you feel like you can do to help, try your best to accomplish it,” he says. 

DESIGNING SOLUTIONS: Explain how students used the engineering design process to make supplies for health-care workers.

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