A shielding force: UIUC, Carle Health team up to help health care workers

A team of engineers, physicians, researchers and designers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Carle Health has developed and launched production of a face shield for health professionals responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bioengineering senior Kyle Ritchie demonstrates the face shield.

The team includes professor Helen Nguyen, associate professor Jeremy Guest, and assistant professors Roland CusickVishal Verma and Shelly Zhang, from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

The design specifications and instructions for use have been made public, and they can be downloaded here:  https://covidPPE.grainger.illinois.edu.

The face shield project is part of a larger Personal Protective Equipment design initiative led jointly by The Grainger College of Engineering and the Carle Illinois College of Medicine’s Health Maker Lab, according to Dr. Martin Burke, associate dean for research at Carle Illinois College of Medicine.

“The goal of the PPE initiative is to leverage the collective power of the Health Maker Lab to respond to the urgent need to help front-line health care workers,” Burke said. “Barrierless collaboration between experts in medical sciences, engineering and design, in partnership with physicians, nurses and community members, has enabled extraordinary innovation in a time of crisis.”

Over a three-week period, the team designed and fabricated face shield components, solicited feedback from health care workers in a clinical setting at Carle Foundation Hospital and received guidance under the Coronavirus Disease 2019 public health emergency from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to fabricate these devices, said Irfan Ahmad, who is the executive director of the Health Maker Lab, an assistant dean for research at Carle Illinois College of Medicine and the executive director for interdisciplinary initiatives for The Grainger College of Engineering.

“Health care workers in Champaign County will begin beta testing a small batch of prototypes this week,” he said. “The university plans to produce at least 2,000 face shields to support short-term needs.”

“We have conducted material availability research and are partnering with local manufacturers like ShapeMaster, Inc., Wagner Machine Co. and others, and seeking grants for them to produce the face shields on a larger scale,” said Lisa Bievenue, director of the Informatics Program and the Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab.

“Our primary design criteria were all about the needs of health care workers, but we also wanted to enable rapid and cheap fabrication, easy assembly and reusable frames that can be quickly sanitized with a range of approved techniques,” said Guest, who serves as the face shield team lead.

A prototype of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Carle Health’s face shield.

“The team is collaborating to design and test prototypes for other PPE products as well as sterilization technologies, including N95 respirators, disposable and reusable gowns, masks and caps, and mid- and small-scale sterilization technologies,” said Nguyen, who served as the lead principal investigator on the project. “Dozens of professionals, from engineers, physicians and researchers to costume designers, staff and students, and community members are contributing their expertise and talents on these projects.”

UIUC CEE faculty members who helped develop and launch production of a face shield include, from top to bottom, Helen Nguyen, Jeremy Guest, Roland Cusick, Vishal Verma and Shelly Zhang.

“With community spread of COVID-19 we are pursuing every option to keep our patients, staff and the community safe,” said Dr. Charles Dennis, Carle’s chief medical officer. “We must go beyond the traditional supply chain and develop and produce necessary equipment. We’re grateful to our colleagues at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who have quickly applied their expertise and capabilities to meet these needs.”

The Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab (Illinois Informatics), Architecture Fabrication Studio, Rapid Prototyping Lab, Mechanical Engineering Lab and Materials Research Laboratory facilitated prototyping of the Health Maker Lab face shield project.

Contributors included clinicians from Carle Health and faculty and researchers from across the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, including the following:

  • Carle Illinois College of Medicine
  • The Grainger College of Engineering
  • Gies College of Business
  • Krannert Center for Performing Arts
  • Siebel Center for Design
  • Holonyak Micro & Nanotechnology Lab
  • Materials Research Laboratory
  • College of Veterinary Medicine
  • College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
  • College of Agricultural
  • Consumer and Environmental Sciences
  • Office of Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation
  • Health Care Engineering Systems Center
  • Institute of Sustainability, Energy and Environment
  • Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology
  • Division of Intercollegiate Athletics
  • Facilities and Services

Other contributors included:

  • OSF Healthcare
  • Ctrl-Z Robotics Competition Team
  • EarthSense
  • Jump ARCHES

Individuals, families and businesses, including University of Illinois alumni from across the globe, have made charitable donations to the PPE project, including:

  • The Larson Family
  • Kara Demirjian Huss and Dr. Mark Huss
  • Chris and Gozen Hartman
  • The family of Dr. Frank F. Shi and Mrs. Sharon Q. Du
  • Jump ARCHES
  • Busey Bank

To support this project and to learn more about how philanthropy makes a difference in this time of global crisis, visit http://covidPPE.grainger.illinois.edu.

The Health Maker Lab is a network of maker labs and design spaces across the University of Illinois campus. Professionals, students and citizen scientists collaborate, ideate and create unique solutions to global health challenges by prototyping anything at any scale — from molecules to buildings.

Media contacts:

Charlie Simpson
Executive Director, Marketing and Communications
Carle Illinois College of Medicine
(630) 338-2558

Jennifer Hendricks Kaufmann
Enterprise Communications and Health System Marketing Director
Carle Health
(217) 902-5201