Biologist Tonia Hsieh part of Temple University COVID-19 Assistance Team
The Temple University COVID-19 Assistance Team—a task force of faculty, students and staff from across the university—is supporting Temple University Hospital medical personnel on the front lines of COVID-19 care. The effort is wide ranging, from designing and fabricating stronger materials to hold N95 masks in place to 3-D printed ventilator manifolds that enable a single unit to support two patients.
Tonia Hsieh, associate professor of biology, is leading a face shield design and production team with a goal of producing 3,000 face shields per week. To date, nearly 1,000 have been produced and distributed to TUH medical staff. A small number of shields were also sent to the Maurice H. Kornberg School of Dentistry. The goal is to expand distribution to other hospitals in the region.
“The team developed a novel CNC milling and molding method,” explains Hsieh, using the abbreviation for computer numerical control. “That has the potential to increase production speed from about 2 hours to produce one face shield holder through 3D printing, towards the goal of making approximately 100 shield holders every 15 minutes.”
The task force is led by Michael Kala’i, the College of Engineering’s senior director of technology and operations, and includes a number of teams working on different projects. The face shield team includes, among many others, William Wohl, a TUH transplant coordinator who organized prototype testing; Andrew Wit, assistant professor in the Tyler School of Art and Architecture; Timothy Rusterholz, TYL’11, an assistant professor of instruction at Tyler; and David Ross, manager of the Charles Library makerspace. Undergraduates on the team include Hannah Alexander, biology; Jack Oswald, bioengineering; and Phillip Ryskalczyk, engineering technology.
According to Rusterholz, to overcome the slow production times of 3D printing, the team developed a rubber mold for fast pouring of two-part resins. “We are able to pour 24 visors within a 5-minute window,” explains Rusterholz, who also owns design and digital fabrication shop RustFab. “Right now, getting innovative tech into the hands of as many people as possible is the main goal. The techniques we are developing are producing numbers beyond expectations.”
For Ross, prototyping, gathering feedback from users and producing PPE at speed and manageable costs while also social distancing has been a challenge. But it has also been exciting and eye opening. “Working with departments that I have not worked with before shows how beneficial different skill sets working in a collaborative environment can be,” says Ross. “Bouncing our ideas around as a team has caused this project to move and develop quicker.”
Kyle Schwab, ENG ’19, currently a master’s student in biomedical engineering, worked with TUH’s Bill Wohl to design the 3D model for the face shield’s holder and headband, which was then used to make the mold. “When there is a new concept that needs to be tested, I try to bring it into the real world,” explains Schwab. “It’s a lot of problem solving, such as designing and fabricating PPE that can be safely sterilized and reused or fabricating life support systems such as ventilators and remote-control interfaces.”
Schwab sees “the Temple spirit of community and collaboration” in the university’s overall response to the coronavirus. “That spirit has driven our group to support Temple medical professionals in times of unprecedented need,” he says.
For Hsieh, she is amazed by the talent and creativity present on the COVID-19 task force. “The staff and faculty on this effort are making major sacrifices in all aspects of their lives to push this forward at the rapid pace necessary to combat the ferocity of this virus,” she says. “Temple students are impressive, but the students on this endeavor have a dedication that far exceeds anything I ever could have imagined. It’s a humbling and inspiring experience.”