Andrea Armani is a Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. She is donating her resources and time to build face shields for essential workers in Los Angeles.
She said her “initial eureka moment” happened when Laura Mosqueda, the Dean of the Keck School of Medicine of USC, reached out to the Viterbi School of Engineering.
“It was basically a call for help. She said, ‘Does anyone have any PPE in their labs now that they can give us? Because the health care community needs what you have.’”
Armani is in charge of the nanofabrication facility at USC (she uses nanotechnology in a lab to build tiny objects). In order to stay safe in the lab, engineers wear head-to-toe personal protective equipment (PPE).
“We were the ideal place for her to come and take all of our PPE,” she said. “So I emailed her back and said, ‘Look, I can give this all to you, but I need a truck. It's not going to be like one or two boxes. It’s cabinets.’”
After Armani donated the facility’s PPE, she reached out to Dean Mosqueda a second time.
“I emailed her again and was like, ‘Do you need anything else?’ That was two hours of my life, and she’s looking at months, not an immediate solution,” Armani said. “And she texted back and was like, ‘What are you offering?’ There was this gap where I didn’t know what she needed, and she didn’t know what I could provide, and that started a dialogue of what could I give her and what were her primary needs. That really just kicked off a discussion on how engineers could help.”
Now, Armani is using 3D printers to create face shields. The shields are long enough to protect from the top of the head to the bottom of the neck. Armani said face shields are “an initial stop for when people cough or when there’s any kind of phlegm that comes out.”
“They’re the type of structure that's ideal to be 3D printed because they have two components: They have a visor or brim part, and then just a transparent plastic front,” she said. “So they’re very easy to make because of that duel construction, but they’re also something that is very mission critical for all of the health care workers right now because they provide a true barrier.”
It takes an hour and a half to 3D print the brim of the shield. Armani is working with a local company to make the transparent plastic front, and it can create 150 at a time by using a stamp. While it was challenging at first to find materials, Armani said it was just a matter of sourcing.
“Making the classic part of the face shield was initially difficult because I was doing it at home with my resources in my guest room,” she said. “And then working with local industry actually kind of opened up just a plethora of alternative manufacturing capabilities. And this is where in California, kind of that essential/non-essential compliance came into play.”
Armani said in Los Angeles, there are many “essential manufacturing bases” that operate for the military that have stayed open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A lot of the engineers that are working for the military on military contracts, they’re still at work because they’re part of that essential workforce,” she said. “And a lot of them are really putting in true overtime hours in order to contribute to this effort.”
She said creating a large volume of masks wouldn’t have been possible without these workers’ overtime hours. The masks are now benefiting doctors across Southern California.
“We’ve given a lot to the USC Medical Center and then we've actually now kind of shifted gears, and we’re giving a lot of the face shields to local area physicians, so like small clinics, pediatricians, dentists,” she said. “While UCLA, USC, Cedars, are doing a really good job advertising that they need help, when you have with you a single dentist who has a small practice, they're not getting the type of help and support that these very large medical centers are getting.”
Armani said there are three ways to clean the face shields: Bleach, radiation, and heat. She said she’s actually working on developing a mechanism to kill germs on masks.
“We're developing a way to use a plastic bin with a light bulb inside of it,” she said. “The light goes in and interacts with other viruses or bacteria and causes damage to the DNA or RNA, then inhibits the replication of the virus or bacterial particles.”
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