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USC students leading effort to 3D print 500 face shields

The face shields will be given to MUSC hospitals next week.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Students at the University of South Carolina are in the process of 3D printing hundreds of face shields for use at local hospitals.

A doctorate student and research assistant at the USC College of Engineering and Computing took it upon themselves to help fight the coronavirus.

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Sowmya Raghu, a research assistant and adjunct faculty member, said the idea came after news reports on medical supplies shortages.

Robin James, a Ph.D candidate, added his mother is a nurse, which also provided inspiration.

“When we heard about a nurse in New York wearing a trash bag as a PPE, if someone is actually saving lives-- they should not use a trash bag to save their own lives. So that was the time we thought, 'Yes, we should be able to do something,” Raghu said.

“And we felt since we have access to these 3D printers, if we could actually utilize them and kind of 3D print some kind of personal equipment and that's how we started doing face shields,” James added.

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The two decided to print the face shields using their personal 3D printer, eventually it spread to the College’s printers.

Right now, they're making 500 shields to be delivered to MUSC hospitals next week.

Mechanical Engineering Department Chair Dr. Jamil Khan said it's no surprise students took the initiative.

“We as an educator, we want our students to be somebody who can give back to society. And here, I didn't even have to tell them. It was them that came up to me and said, 'We can do this, should we do it?' I felt so humbled,” Dr. Khan said.

Khan added there are now 15 faculty and student volunteers working on the project.

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Eight printers are printing the shields as fast as they can while most of the University sits empty, due to the decision to move classes online.

James and University leadership said they chose CDC-approved shield designs because they could be made quickly and did not require the regulatory approval of other medical gear.

“If I have a mask over here, the face shield protects the mask. Also, if the healthcare physicians are wearing gloves, they don't have to touch their face, the face shield kind of prevents that from happening. So, it's a very important piece of equipment,” James said while wearing a prototype.

The first shipment is set to go out next week and they hope to keep making them by the hundreds.

The masks, which cost about $8-$10 to make, will be donated to MUSC and the labor is being handled by the volunteers, according to USC public relations.

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