Cornell Tech students mobilize on Roosevelt Island to produce face masks for health workers

Cornell Tech students show off some of the face shields produced at the MakerLAB on Roosevelt Island. (Photos courtesy BerlinRosen)

The MakerLAB at Cornell Tech’s Roosevelt Island campus is no longer just a learning institution. It’s now also a mask-making factory.

As the coronavirus pandemic grips New York City, the students and staff are now working hard to meet the dire needs of medical professionals working to save lives across the five boroughs. 

The Cornell Tech team, out of Roosevelt Island and its sister campus in upstate Ithaca, have already churned out hundreds of face shields using their fleet of 3D printers and vinyl cutters.

Niti Parikh, director of the MakerLAB at Roosevelt Island, told amNewYork Metro that the idea to produce face shields happened shortly after occupancy restrictions in New York State took effect in mid-March. The restrictions ended in-person classes and relegated instruction to online courses for the time being.

“When this lockdown happened, we began working to identifying a need around the city and figuring out how to help,” Parikh said.

Using a team of four to five students at a time, the MakerLab developed a prototype that met CDC safety regulations and went to work producing them. They used the lab’s fleet of 3D printers and vinyl cutters to get the job done; some team members even brought their own 3D printers from home for the effort.

The face shields are relatively cheap to produce, Parikh noted; about 60 masks can be produced from plastic materials that normally cost about $45. The only drawback is that 3D printers take quite a bit of time in producing face shield frames; four frames can be produced in about 2 hours, 15 minutes per machine.

Take a look at part of the production process:

Parikh added that the lab is developing a prototype for a disposable face shield using laser-cut vinyl and elastic bands. These shields can be produced in as little as five minutes each. 

Batches of 3D-printed face shields have already been donated to Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital on March 27; another batch was dispatched to Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens last week.

This week, the MakerLAB team is sending 70 face shields to health care professionals at the Upper East Side Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, where older coronavirus patients are being treated. 

Parikh expressed pride in the MakerLAB students’ effort thus far — and noted that they’re willing to do even more. 

“I have never experienced something like this where every skill and craft and brains has come together to help,” she said. “And our students have reached out again and again. This was their spring break last week … [but] they’re choosing to stay back in New York City and they are just eager to help.”

Working in consultation with a community member, the MakerLAB team is looking to develop a “tactile” device that can communicate family messages to coronavirus patients in intensive care. These patients, many of whom are on ventilators fighting for their lives, are in isolation; their family members cannot be with them in person, even in their final moments.

The tactile would include a sensor in which a family member could record a message that a patient could hear with a simple press or squeeze of a button. 

“We are seeing patients dying alone, so something like this would definitely be welcome,” Parikh added.