When looking for people who have impacted Oklahoma during the COVID-19 pandemic, look no further than students who work in the Fabrication Lab at the OU Tom Love Innovation Hub.
In March, Brandt Smith, director of the Fabrication Lab, and other OU employees joined a call with OU Health officials to discuss what supplies they expected to need for their hospitals and clinics. Since then, the Fab Lab has been working only on the university’s response to COVID, and info about the lab’s role can be found at ou.edu/foroklahoma.
Students have created a range of COVID-related products in the Fab Lab, including face shields that are being used at OU Health in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Two students - Tyler Thibodeau and Nathan Herring - designed unique face shield designs that, when blind tested by clinicians and practitioners, were chosen over a number of other open source designs.
“I am amazed at the resumes of current OU students," Smith stated. "Here in the Innovation Hub and across campus, OU students are making significant impacts at the state level.”
Herring, an aerospace engineering senior from Cabot, Arkansas, said he enjoyed having a real-world challenge while creating his face shield design.
“It was looking at what makes one design better than the others that are floating around the internet,” Herring explained. “It was really just balancing between what materials we have to work with, how many we could make, how many we could fit on one tool, how fast could we make them, how easy would it be for a medical professional to use. That’s how we came up with the designs that we have.”
“I am amazed at the resumes of current OU students. Here in the Innovation Hub and across campus, OU students are making significant impacts at the state level." - Brandt Smith
Fab Lab students also developed, produced, and installed over a half mile’s length of countertop sneeze guards for OU Health clinics and three academic colleges on the Norman campus - the Price College of Business, Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education, and Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.
The team produced two different isolation box designs, one that is smaller and used during respiratory therapy procedures to mitigate the amount of aerosol going into the air and a walk-in one. The walk-in version allows medical professionals to perform a nasal swab test without any PPE, and OU Health utilized two of these boxes to test patients who were presumed positive for COVID.
Students have also designed a silicone strap for face shields to make extended wear more comfortable and a version of the PAPR, an apparatus used to filter contaminated air and used with full-body protective equipment, that is more afforable than others currently available.
Additionally, two projects created in the Fab Lab are currently under patent, both for the OU College of Dentistry. One is a brand new design for mitigating aerosol production, and the other is a novel disinfection process to sanitize a number of masks very quickly.
Another UVC-related project built in the Fab Lab is a testing chamber, which is being utilized in a partnership research project between Dr. Evan Floyd, an assistant professor in OU’s Hudson College of Public Health, and a researcher from Harvard. The researchers are working to determine if UVC can be used in air conditioning systems to treat air as it flows through.
On the fabrication side of these projects is JD Epperson, a senior environmental engineering major from Yukon, Oklahoma. After the designers created their designs, Epperson said he would spend his hours running the laser and 3D printers to produce the products. He was also one of the students who installed the desk shields at OU Health each week.
“It felt pretty incredible,” Epperson shared. “It was the first time in my life that I felt that the work that I was doing was actually contributing to the good of society.”
Smith is glad the university said, “We have this asset, let’s use it” when it came to utilizing the Fab Lab in the COVID response. It’s even more impressive to look at the significant impact students have made in this process.
“Our students have had direct, tangible, real-life impacts outside of the classroom, and that’s amazing,” Smith explained. “Students protected every professional that works at OU Health from getting sneezed in their face … We have a device that is going to determine whether or not our nation’s HVAC systems are modified after COVID, thanks to the design of students. We had a system that is going to allow for medical practitioners to use their masks more than they could before. And it’s all made by students entirely."