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3D Printing to Fight COVID-19

In the middle of the global pandemic, healthcare workers struggled with shortages of safety essentials, such as personal protective equipment (PPE).  Disruption of manufacturing supply chains, along with increased demand, led to ongoing PPE shortages at many medical centers across the nation. Dr. Lily Li responded. An associate professor, and chair of the Department of Physics, Li worked on campus to manufacture PPE with the department’s 3D printers—a manufacturing technology she had introduced to her students in recent years.

“I wanted to contribute to the battle against the COVID-19 virus and decided 3D printing could provide me with the ability to manufacture face shields that protect our brave healthcare professionals and first responders.  Not only did that endeavor fill a critical healthcare need, but it also provided our students with a concrete example of a real-life application of this novel manufacturing technology,” Li said.

The face shields consisted of 3D-printed headbands, which were then fastened to transparent sheets of plastic.  The headband itself was printed using a thermoplastic polymer and the face shield was then assembled using commonly available office supplies.  Currently, 3D printers are not as well-suited for mass production, and are often used to make prototypes and limited custom runs of parts. 

The Department of Physics has pioneered STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) initiatives at SUNY Potsdam involving programs that encompass critical thinking and collaborative problem solving—important skills for students’ future careers. In recent years, the department has successfully introduced a number of cutting-edge technology courses, including drone technology and 3D printing, as components of their STEAM curriculum.

“SUNY Potsdam integrates 3D technology into STEAM education so as to challenge and motivate students to think creatively as they design, build and prototype scientific and artistic models,” Li said.

To learn more about the Department of Physics, visit: