Cross-disciplinary team creates face shields, which university donates with personal protective equipment to Vermont medical centers

In the early blitz to fight the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, Norwich University put its minds and machinery where their mouths were — in front of them, to be precise.

In early April, as Norwich was adjusting to virtual learning in far-flung locales, Norwich Nursing Director Paulette Thabault and architecture Professor Matthew Lutz met at Chaplin Hall to use three-dimensional printers to create one-size-fits-all face shields Vermont health care centers could use when treating COVID-19 patients. Sam Talbot-Kelly, a seamstress in the uniform shop who also teaches in the School of Architecture + Art, worked to develop a face shield prototype including a foam headband. The shields were origami style, made by folding along the curved creases on a template and adding an elastic (or foam) band.

College of Professional Schools Dean Aron Temkin ran a de facto supply hub, receiving raw materials at his Montpelier, Vermont, home, which was closer to Northfield than Lutz’s in North Calais, Vermont. After the Chaplin Hall meeting, Lutz brought the printers home to continue making shields.

“This seemed like a logical design to get behind, since we have two lasers, they can be fabricated quickly, meet the immediate need and can be produced relatively inexpensively. … It was pretty easy to see what a smart design it was.”Matthew Lutz, Norwich University architecture professor

By the second week of April, Norwich professors had produced 186 face shields to go over masks, 146 3D printed visor face shields using Norwich 3D printers and 40 origami-style face shields using Norwich’s laser cutter. Some went to Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin, Vermont, for which Thabault is a trustee; others went to Second Spring, a mental health treatment center in Williamstown, Vermont, or the Gifford Medical Center in Randolph, Vermont.

Lutz said except for the shield assembly meeting, Norwich’s face shield fabricating happened remotely, with many phone calls and emails, sometimes augmented by voices beyond the university.

Lutz said his professorial colleague Matt Burney from the State University of New York, Canton, called him and discussed using 3D printers to make face shields, as demand for them as complements to N95 surgical face masks was spiking. Lutz researched face shield styles, and after chatting with a colleague at the Autodesk Build Space in Boston, settled on the laser-cut origami style.

Adapting knowledge

Lutz had completed a five-week residency at the Build Space. Autodesk, a multinational software corporation making software for makers — architects, engineers, builders, manufacturers, had reviewed several face shield designs. Autodesk approved the origami design and started making them.

“This seemed like a logical design to get behind, since we have two lasers, they can be fabricated quickly, meet the immediate need and can be produced relatively inexpensively,” Lutz wrote in an email.

EXPLORE: Coronavirus coverage on Norwich’s Voices from the Hill page.

To develop a prototype, Thabault forwarded a 3D printed face shield design she found by 3DVerkstan, a Swedish company, to Lutz. He said the design needed significant modification to work with Norwich’s printers.

“It was pretty easy to see what a smart design it was,” Lutz wrote. “I modified it and printed a couple copies and showed one to Paulette, who made several suggestions on how to improve it. I made the improvements ... and now printing the third iteration, which I’m confident will work … Rapid prototyping works!”

Cara Armstrong, an architecture professor and director of Norwich’s School of Architecture + Art and the Design + Build Collaborative, said Norwich’s coronavirus blitz involved many hands. Architecture + Art Administrative Assistant Holly Yacawych, for example, aided in the Chaplin Hall design session, supplying disinfectants and cleaners to sanitize the workspace. Eyrich Stauffer of the Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield, Vermont, and Norwich Mechanical Engineering Department Chairman R. Danner Friend helped build the shields, she said; Friend’s wife, Marianne, delivered shields to Second Spring.

Cache of caring

Armstrong said the face shield effort stood as another example of Norwich putting service before self. College of Science and Mathematics Dean Michael McGinnis agreed.

”In these times where we hear so much about PPEs in short demand ... Norwich University stepped up to the plate to donate some of our unused medical/laboratory supplies," McGinnis wrote in an email. 

“Face shields, a key component of our (personal protective equipment) resources, became incredibly scarce. … We were running low on this crucial supply when Norwich University reached out with the offer of help.”Elliott Bent, Central Vermont Medical Center communications and engagement director

Elliott Bent, the Central Vermont Medical Center’s communications and engagement director, was grateful.

“This pandemic was the perfect storm. The global supply chain was disrupted and availability plummeted just as demand went sky high for equipment to keep health care workers safe,” Bent wrote in an email this week. “Face shields, a key component of our (personal protective equipment) resources, became incredibly scarce. … We were running low on this crucial supply when Norwich University reached out with the offer of help. This donation helped keep our health care team and patients safe and got us through the peak of the pandemic.”

Beyond the homemade shields, Norwich’s School of Nursing lent everything from its nursing simulation lab — beds, overhead tables and IV pulls — to outfit the surge force for Gifford Medical Center.

Norwich’s chemistry and biochemistry departments joined the Health and Human Performance and Biology departments to donate a host of supplies:

  • One box of N95 surgical face masks
  • One box bouffant caps
  • Nine reusable isolation gowns
  • Two cases Purell hand wipes
  • Nine containers Sani-Cloth wipes
  • Fifteen boxes of nonsterile gloves
  • Six tubs of sanitizing wipes
  • Three pumps of hand sanitizer
  • More than 16 cases of gloves (nearly 200 boxes) (1 case to Gifford; 15+ cases to Central Vermont Medical Center)

As Norwich gave it also received. This week, the university learned it will receive two boxes of face masks, 7,000 pieces in all, including 3,500 Level 1 masks, from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Boston and Director-General Douglas Hsu. Norwich Assistant Vice President of International Education Thy Yang, who worked with Hsu and the office, said the masks will arrive by postal mail.

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Norwich University Perspectives Project: COVID-19

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