Jody Brown and other students in his mechanical engineering class had been working on their senior projects since fall semester. With the end of spring semester approaching, they were within sight of completing it.
Then the coronavirus hit and everything changed, including their senior project.
“We had spent nearly a year on our previous senior design project with the intentions of finishing it. However, when COVID-19 broke out, Dr. Elliott had the idea that, as engineers, we should contribute in some way for the cause,” said Brown, who’s majoring in mechanical engineering.
Dr. Elliott is Trevor Elliott, UC Foundation assistant professor of mechanical engineering who instructed students his Interdisciplinary Design Project II class to refocus their work on coronavirus-related projects. Brown and fellow student Brach Burdick are coming up with concepts to make filters for masks similar to the N95 respirator masks now in short supply nationwide for health care workers.
Other students are examining concepts to manufacture respirators and ventilators, both of which are needed to fight the coronavirus.
At this point, all the designs are in still inside the students’ heads and on their computer screens. No prototypes have been manufactured. But that’s the ultimate goal.
“Potentially (it is) something a manufacturer can make for the public if our research pans out and we can make some sort of prototype that shows promise,” said Brown.
Determined to help with the battle against COVID-19 but also realizing that course requirements had to be fulfilled, Elliott said he figured students would be alarmed at bringing their former projects to a screeching halt and taking a hard turn in a different direction. But he was mistaken, he said.
“The initial enthusiasm and desire the students have to help the community was overwhelming to me, especially with such great academic (among other) loss by not being able to complete projects they had already worked on since August of last year.
“I am very proud of them because in this time their response was to put aside their frustrations and losses and say ‘How can we use our skill sets and talents to help people?’”
On his own, Elliott also is part of a project to 3D print pieces of the transparent face shields used by health care personnel. The work is a collaboration between the Hamilton County STEM School, the Public Education Foundation and eLab Repairs, a company created by former UTC student Chantz Yanagida.
Senior Paul Clark is a member of the UTC student group tasked with conceptualizing a ventilator to make breathing easier for patients suffering from the coronavirus. The core of the project is not that different from others he has worked on in the past, he said.
“This project is very similar to many engineering projects where we are required to learn as much as we can in a short timeframe. However, many of us are used to working projects of this nature,” he said.
But he has a deeper reason for doing the research beyond the challenge.
“I personally feel strongly about this, having friends and family that work in the health care industry” he said. “I feel that helping others, be it patients or medical staff, is the main outcome for the project. Part of the reason I chose engineering was to fix any problem I was given, no matter the problem or situation.”