Campus responds to crisis with creativity, compassion

While the coronavirus pandemic has upended our lives in many ways, the pandemic cannot stop the compassion and creativity of the University of Delaware community.

In mid-March, research labs and health clinics across campus donated thousands of pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE), including surgical masks and gloves, N95 respirators, lab coats and Tyvek disposable gowns to the Delaware Emergency Management Agency for distribution to those front line responders in greatest need across the state.

Since then, virtual networks of UD makers have emerged to answer the call for more PPE to help police officers, firemen, health care workers, pharmacy and grocery store workers, perhaps family and friends in your own neighborhood. This story shines a light on UD’s MakerNetwork.

A face mask like no other: The HensNest

When UD’s Jenni Buckley answered her cell phone, she could immediately tell that her friend, Lisa Lattanza, was worried. Dr. Lattanza, chair of orthopedics and rehabilitation at Yale School of Medicine, had already seen 15 cases of COVID-19 by late March, and she was concerned her hospital could run out of face masks. Her voice was urgent.

“What can you create for me fast?” she asked Buckley, who is an associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Design Studio at UD. Buckley and Lattanza co-founded the Perry Initiative, which sponsors outreach programs to inspire young women to be leaders in engineering and medicine.

Meanwhile, at his home in Salem, New Jersey, Whitney Sample, co-director of UD’s Design Studio, received an email from A.I. duPont Hospital for Children, asking for help finding more face masks.

Previously, Sample had worked at the hospital, where, among other innovations, he co-invented an exoskeleton to give children with debilitating conditions such as arthrogryposis the ability to lift their arms.

Sample and Buckley discussed ideas with Lattanza at Yale and colleagues at A.I. duPont. They began scouring face mask designs on GrabCAD, an open-source forum of over 7 million engineers, designers, manufacturers and students.

“The designs that were out there were a great start, but there were issues with functionality and we were in a unique position with our training and resources to tackle that,” said Sample, an industrial designer by training, with 20 years of experience in the medical field.

The clinicians wanted a mask that sat out from the face, so that breathing humid air would not impact the integrity of the filter.

So Sample and Buckley and their team, which included faculty, students and clinical partners, set out to build a better face mask. And so the “HensNest” was born.

Whitney Sample, co-director of UD’s Design Studio, holds an early sample of the mask while standing outside UD’s Spencer Lab.

Whitney Sample, co-director of UD’s Design Studio, holds an early sample of the mask while standing outside UD’s Spencer Lab, home to the College of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Sample’s idea was to pursue a lofted wireframe design — a frame so thin it would take only 10 minutes to 3D print and then could be assembled into a mask like a pop-up card. He began with an open-source design called the “DIY Face Mask” by Mark Fuller at GE Additive. Then the UD team added their innovation twists and put the design back out on GrabCAD and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) 3D Print Exchange for other engineers to hack.

“The beauty of the maker community in times like these is that we’re all sharing our design ideas in open-source forums,” Sample said. “We’ve released two versions of the HensNest design thus far and have received great feedback and willing partners internally here at UD and also across the country.”

The HensNest consists of only a few plastic pieces that snap together. They include the “face hoop,” the X-shaped “spider” that gives the mask its convex shape, and a triangular containment hoop that holds a swatch of filter material (Sample has used part of a HEPA furnace filter) neatly tucked into place. The triangular frame fits snugly around the bridge of the nose, the cheeks and under the chin, while the convex shape positions the filter comfortably off the nose and lips.

The HensNest is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and has not undergone respirator fit tests yet. Once testing is done, the UD team said the results will be posted as soon as they are available, along with recommendations for filter materials.

Celanese Corporation is preparing to manufacture the HensNest at its northern Kentucky facility using injection molding, an industrial process used to mass-produce plastic items. The company said it expects to make 2,000 of the face masks a day for use in its local community.

Meanwhile, the UD team is working to get the design out to more maker groups.

“I’m a big fan of scalability,” Buckley said. “If people do have a maker group, they can take this design and start cranking on it.

Buckley is stoked about the progress, and she credits Sample with all the design chops.

“We’re engineers,” Buckley said. “When there is a problem to solve, that’s like candy to us. We just want to be helpful. That’s what our profession is all about.”

Shielding doctors and nurses from harm

When Mohsen Badiey, director of UD’s Maker Initiative, heard the call for more face shields for doctors and nurses, he sought permission to deploy UD’s newest creativity hub: the MakerGym and Network.

“Although this state-of-the-art facility had been open only a few months before COVID-19 hit, the MakerGym — and the campus-wide MakerNetwork it is part of — are playing a pivotal role in the University’s PPE output,” said Badiey, a professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Multi-colored stacks of 3D printed plastic frames to hold face shields.

UD engineers, designers and other personnel used 3D printers to make the frames that hold the clear plastic face shields.

Face shields went into production last week — almost exclusively through remote operation. UD has been an early adopter of MakerFleet, a cloud-based software that allows operations manager Brooks Twilley and his team to 3D print face shields in this former gymnasium, with only minimal on-site access required. Boosting the MakerGym’s output are research laboratories and individuals, from Newark to Lewes. They include Zach Larimore, Tom Lum, Kun Fu, Ashley Pigford, Zach Swain, Michael Mackay, Rich McCann, Lance Winn, Adam Stager, Jessica Barth and Art Trembanis.

“Ten labs have come online to produce rapidly and relentlessly, without a desire or concern for recognition,” Twilley said. “I am proud of our team and am inspired by their selfless focus on others.”

Doctors and nurses at Christiana Care provided input into the face shield design. They were presented five designs for evaluation. Their feedback, coupled with supply chain and production considerations, led to the selection of a face shield design by Erik Cederberg of 3DVerkstan in Sweden.

“Erik’s design was elegant, fastest to produce and met all of our design criteria,” Twilley said. “In an ideal world, we would have time to develop our own unique solution, but time is not on our side. Care providers on the front lines are selflessly working without sufficient PPE.”

Twilley worked with MakerGym technician Donna Svinis, to develop an expedient production plan.

“Working from home on a 3D printer, Donna tirelessly ran countless test prints to develop parameters that would maximize throughput and quality,” Twilley said.

The duo sourced acetate transparency sheets for the clear shielding, and worked with local manufacturer Printed Solid to secure the plastic filament that melts to form the headband of the face shield, layer by layer, during the 3D printing process.

Last week, the UD team produced 200 face shields for local dentists to use in emergency procedures. Leveraging UD’s campus-wide Maker Network, including the 10 labs that have volunteered to help, the team expects to produce 3,000 face shields over the next two weeks for Delaware’s health systems.

MakerGym technician Donna Svinis models one of the clear plastic face shields she helped design and produce.

MakerGym technician Donna Svinis models one of the face shields she helped design and produce.

When Twilley notified Kristen Raber, corporate director of Cloud Platform Innovation Lab at ChristianaCare, she was ecstatic.

“It is absolutely heartwarming to have community partners, like yourselves, support us in our fight to protect our caregivers as they care for those in need,” Raber said.

Top performers, behind the scenes

If this had been an ordinary spring, they would have been busy with rehearsals, loading costumes to take to the Center for the Arts, fine tuning set lighting and handling umpteen other tasks crucial to a successful theatre production.

UD’s professional theatre company — the Resident Ensemble Players (REP) — had prepared a rich spring lineup, including The Crucible, The Whipping Man, and Round and Round the Garden. But as these plays got cancelled, the production crew and actors began channeling their energy into making face masks and shields.

With the strategy and discipline of an Army officer, Kelly O’Rourke, associate production manager, helped rally the troupe. O’Rourke has a warm, easy laugh and a well of wisdom that runs deep.

She had been connecting online with her counterparts in the Production Managers Forum, a nationwide network of theatre professionals. The news coming out of New York City was alarming, and so were local predictions of infection. There was a growing need for more medical masks. She reached out to Sanford (Sandy) Robbins, professor and chair of the Department of Theatre, to see if the REP could be involved in contributing to the cause. He quickly endorsed their plans.

Now approaching 40 staff strong, the group has split into teams of 6 to 8 people working to make face masks and face shields.

To begin the process, O’Rourke said that prop master Liz Baehr, whom she refers to as “one of the most extraordinary people on the planet,” pinned each person’s home on a Google map. Teams were formed by geographic proximity and then each team member was assigned a specific role.

two multi-colored pieces of cloth on a cutting mat.

What’s a theatre production without costumes? Costumes mean fabric, cutting and sewing.

A team making face masks includes, for example, a cutter who preps and cuts the fabric, a stitcher who sews the mask, a “guru” — the designated question answerer, a point person charged with communicating for the group, a purchaser and a driver. A vendor delivers fabric directly to the cutter, but the driver takes materials from the cutters to the stitchers, and then delivers the final product to UD’s Mike Gladle, director of Environmental Health and Safety, and Mark Seifert, director of emergency operations, for relay to the Delaware Emergency Management Agency for distribution.

Since March 20, the team has made more than 1,000 face masks and will be continuing to make more from over 180 yards of fabric and 2,000 yards of twill tape. On average, a person can make four masks per hour.

“This allows us to work together — to really do a different version of what we’re good at anyway and to do something that people really need right now,” O’Rourke said.

“I’m just really grateful to be working with the REP right now,” she added. “It’s such a strange time for everybody and to able to be working at a place where we can both acknowledge all the uncertainties of that, and allow ourselves to be human but still be able to rally ourselves to work together and put something back out into the world that’s helpful, that helps me sleep better at night.”

Protecting people, by design
Early on during the COVID-19 pandemic, Martha Hall, director of innovation for UD’s College of Health Sciences, began volunteering to make face masks for some of Delaware’s most vulnerable populations.

Together, she and colleagues Adriana Gorea, assistant professor, and Hye-Shin Kim, chair, both of the Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies, have now sewn more than 500 face masks for UD Police and Delaware State Police, local fire companies, nursing homes and homeless shelters.

Martha Hall in a hand-made cloth mask.

Martha Hall is director of innovation for UD’s College of Health Sciences.

The pattern they use is available from

“I found it to be the best pattern because it’s contoured across the face and it uses ties — not elastic. Elastic rubs the skin, and ties are much more comfortable,” Hall said.

Hall is sensitive to patient fit and comfort. Her background includes bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fashion and apparel studies, coupled with a doctorate in biomechanics and movement science — a combination that has proven powerful in innovating adaptive clothing for children and adults with disabilities, an area she specializes in.

Now she wants to enlist UD students, wherever they may be located in the U.S. and around the world, to join her virtually in making more face masks.

“Even the everyday Joe needs a mask to go to the grocery store. We can help fill the breach,” she said. “That would be a really wonderful show of support from UD during these times.”

Hall said she’s happy to be of service however she can during the pandemic, and international contacts have been reaching out to her. A major company — a leader in the design of wearable technology — based in the United Kingdom, connected with her recently about doing an N95 mask on a global scale.

“They are looking at potentially a whole new design because there’s such a mask shortage,” Hall said.

Her lab also is exploring the use of less traditional materials in mask design, such as silver-embedded fabric with antimicrobial properties, and vacuum cleaner bags to replace filtration masks.

“Without sounding too preachy, it’s really encouraging to see people use these masks in public,” Hall said. “It’s meant to provide basic protection. If you don’t have one, please find a resource. We have to take care of one another.”

If you’d like to work on face masks with Hall, contact her at

For more information on UD’s MakerNetwork, visit this website.

 Photos courtesy of Chuck Yarmey, Martha Hall, Liz Baehr and Jenni Buckley | Videos by Ally Quinn, Whitney Sample, Joe Corrigan and Nadine Howatt