Since a very young age, Natick’s Christian de Weck carried around an “idea” notebook with him in which he wrote down possible inventions. While the 19-year-old MIT freshman might not have envisioned a need back then for cranking out medical masks, his brain was working in a way that prepped him to spring into action during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The mechanical engineering student has set up a 3D printer workshop in his family’s dining room, where he so far has pumped out 20 masks for use at Mass General Hospital.
“This effort started when I saw on the news that the president of MGH tweeted that they were in desperate need of masks and were asking anyone with 3D printers or any other fabrication capability to help out,” says de Weck, who is using his own materials and donating the masks to the healthcare facility. “I figured that since I have two 3D printers at home, they could be put to good use making masks for people who need them… I am willing to give them to any facility that might want/need them.”
Uprooted, but not down
Like other students whose campuses have been cleared and in-person classes canceled, de Weck has seen his life uprooted by the pandemic. And he’s well aware of how it is affecting the lives of so many others directly and indirectly. “Many families including my own have been staying at home for the past few weeks, not to mention many services are shutting down and people risk unemployment/eviction. I also believe this virus exposes some of the flaws within our current healthcare system and overall society. Hopefully, this virus will allow people to see and rectify these issues…”
The Beaver Country Day School grad is using 2 Qidi dual extruding 3D printers, 1 of which he received as a birthday present a couple of years ago, and another he came by more recently.
“The masks are being made from a plastic filament called polylactic acid (PLA) that is commonly used in 3D printers. This material “is easy to melt and shape, but should also be adequate for protecting the user of the mask,” de Weck says.
“It takes close to an hour-and-a-half to print each mask, then roughly three-quarters of an hour to make the filter and cap. There’s additional assembly involved as well, such as using warm water to shape the masks and attaching elastic straps.
Making mom proud
The 19-year-old’s volunteer efforts come as no surprise to his mother, Lynn, who says as a youngster he was always asking what he might invent to help her around the house.
She references an independent study he did in his junior year in high school in which “he designed and 3D printed a prosthetic arm for students, complete with a thumb drive in the thumb and a ruler on the hand edge and a pencil case on the forearm. 3D prosthetics are cheaper to print for kids who are growing and need to be refitted often.”
She couldn’t be prouder about his latest volunteer effort. The de Wecks made their first mask delivery on Sunday to a friend who is an MGH doctor.
“[Christian’s] creativeness, combined with caring for others and always wanting to help is the fabric of who he is,” she says.
Meanwhile, her son expects more filament to arrive on Monday. “I plan to make as many masks as I can until my PLA filament runs out,” he says.
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