Two ASU Professors Join COVID-19 Fight

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Dr. Derrick Dean, professor and coordinator of ASU's,Biomedical Engineering, works on his 3D printer to make medical face shields. Photo by ASU photographer David Campbell

By Hazel Scott/ASU

Two Alabama State University professors have joined the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic by using their personal 3D printers to make medical face shields for health care workers who are in desperate need of protective gear.

Dr. Derrick Dean, professor and coordinator of Biomedical Engineering, and Windham Graves, assistant professor in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, both decided to get into the battle for one reason – to help.

“I know there is a need in the community, and it looks like it's going to stay difficult to get Personal Protective Equipment for some time, and I have the tools to help,” Graves said.

Dean echoed Graves sentiments.

“This is a tangible effort that makes a real, meaningful contribution and that’s what I’m all about and that’s what the University is all about,” Dean said. “This is a great opportunity for me to connect my passion with a purpose for when those two connect, we’re destined to make a positive impact. It is very fulfilling to be part of this effort.”

The clear plastic face shields are worn over face masks to give an added layer of protection because they also cover the eyes. Local care workers in Montgomery and the staff in local assisted living facilities, counseling centers, and other paramedical organizations will receive the shields and masks.

“These facilities are least likely to have these types of supplies on hand,” Graves said.

Graves along with his wife Sarah and their friend Elisabeth Palmer have completed 50 face shields and are now working on 50 more. The team also is producing cotton face masks.       

 “We have made 86 face masks and are working on another 100 to be done by the end of the week. Hopefully we can stay on or above that schedule until the need abates,” he said. 

As of this writing, Graves has delivered 30 shields and 74 masks.

Dean’s efforts are spearheaded by Montgomery Fighting COVID, a nonprofit that produces face shields. That group, he said, has already delivered a small batch to Jackson Hospital and more than 50 shields to the Baptist Health System.

“I was connected with them through TechMGM,” Dean said.

So far, Dean has made six face shields and is focused on making 20 more for the group.

Both professors make the shields while juggling their work. Graves spends anywhere from 3 to 10 hours on his projects. “It depends on the day how long I spend making the shields and masks. But it’s getting more efficient as we figure out ways to streamline production,” Graves said.

Dean allots 10-12 hours while multitasking his day. “The printers run about 18 hours per day during this project,” he said.

Donations are supporting Graves’ and Dean’s volunteer work.

As for Dean, he said individuals are making donations to the Montgomery Fighting COVID organization.

For Graves, people have donated fabric for the face masks and laminator sheets for the shields. But he said he is running out of supplies.

 “We have done a call on Facebook and have contacted friends and local artists that we know. We are hoping that this will reach more people who might have materials they can donate.”

Graves said people can go to Amazon (https://amzn.to/2XwhqcP) to  make a donation or email him.

“Any unused materials will go to support visual arts students or local nonprofits who are makings shields for local hospitals,” Graves said.

Both professors remarked that it’s imperative to get involved.

“Anything that you can do to help protect those individuals on the front line is worth it,” Dean said. 

Graves agreed.

“If you can help, help. It doesn't need to be what I'm doing,” Graves said.  “It's a pandemic; everyone is in this together.”

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                                                                       Photo courtesy of Windham Graves

Windham Graves, assistant professor in ASU's College of Visual and Performing arts made these finished medical face shields on his 3D printer