Earth and Planets Laboratory Contributes to DC’s Essential Workers in Fight Against Coronavirus

3D printing Face shields for the coroabirus
Staff scientist Tim Strobel's 3D printer in action! Strobel's lab is 3D printing headbands for face shields to protect DC's essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic. Strobel is one of many Carnegie Science staff members who are finding ways to contribute their skills and resources during the COVID-19 crisis.
Wednesday, April 08, 2020 

April 8, 2020 
Written by Katy Cain

Carnegie Science’s Earth and Planets Laboratory (EPL) is putting its 3D printers to work in the worldwide fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Staff Scientist Tim Strobel is heading up an effort with Postdoctoral Fellow Wan Si Tang and Laboratory Engineer Javier Rojas to print an essential part for transparent face shields. When used in conjunction with low-grade surgical masks, these shields provide CDC-recommended levels of protection for healthcare workers interacting with a COVID-19 carrier. 

Tim Strobel poses with finished headbands which he 3D printed at home before transporting them to the assembly center. Credit: Michelle Strobel

Strobel’s team is a part of a larger DC-area 3D printing network called "Print to Protect." Started by local high school student Jonah Docter-Loeb and partnering with DC Mutual Aid and Eaton DC, the group organizes individual makers into a supply chain with a central collection point at Eaton DC. There, they assemble the crowdsourced shields and distribute them free of charge to four major DC area hospitals, including MedStar Washington Hospital and United Medical Center. In addition, the group is preparing to supply shields and other critical parts to non-medical workers on the front lines of the fight against COVID-10 including D.C.’s police and fire departments. As of April 29, the group has produced and distributed upward of 3,000 shields.

So far, the Strobel Lab has supplied headbands for hundreds of shields, and they intend to keep them coming as long as there is a need. According to Strobel, their 3D printer can produce 20 reusable headbands per day, though they are working on increasing that number. EPL provided the 3D printer and original spools of plastic filament, which can be sanitized. Strobel and other local printers are now providing supplies to the project, which relies completely on donations from the community. 

 When he’s not producing medical equipment, Strobel is running a lab at the Earth and Planets Laboratory, where he subjects materials to high pressures to better understand known chemical interactions and create entirely new materials. There, the 3D printer plays an essential role in building the bespoke gadgetry needed to run his experiments and allows the scientists to visualize 3D crystal structures.

The 3D printer in Strobel’s lab is often used to visualize complex crystal structures. Now, it’s being put to use to save lives. Photo credit: Tim Strobel

Other EPL staff members are sewing and donating masks to hospitals in need. 

In addition to the 3D printing project, several EPL staff members are contributing their time and skills to supply local medical institutions. For instance, IT Specialist and Programmer Adriana Kuehnel, Administrative Assistant Susana L. Mysen, and Library Technical Specialist M.A. O’Donnel are sewing and donating face masks. They have donated around 70 reusable masks so far. EPL staff also have reached into their stores of laboratory operations protective gear to donate a large number of gloves, disinfectants, swabs, disposable masks, and goggles to Howard University Hospital.

The Director of EPL, Rick Carlson stated, “Although just a small contribution in defense of this international pandemic, EPL is proud to be able to help in any way to protect the first responders who are essential to the treatment of those affected by the coronavirus.”

EPL donations being received by a nurse at Howard University Hospital. Photo credit: Andrew Steele

The contributions made by Earth and Planets Laboratory staff are part of a broader effort across the Carnegie Institution for Science to aid public health workers by donating desperately needed equipment, including N95 masks and RT-PCR kits to local hospital and testing sites.

*Editors note: According to Print to Protect leadership, there will also be a website coming shortly to centralize organization efforts. 

Get Involved: 


Volunteer and find mask patterns at the MasksNOW Coalition