13-year-old with passion for 3D printing answers calls to help hospitals

Medical Watch

CHICAGO — With more patients comes the need for more supplies. And in the case of COVID-19’s assault on the lungs, masks and ventilators are a top priority.

A call to action went out after shortages were seen in other countries. A company that makes software for 3D printers reached out to the people who use the technology asking their clients to use their printers for greater good.

One of those clients has a 3D printer running all day. But not in a lab or at a big university.

Instead it’s in the basement at 13-year-old Nathan Lio’s house.

“It really started when my mother sent me a little article about the whole thing,” he said.  “And about how people were able to 3D print ventilator valves. And that got me to do some more research where I found out about the mask shortages.”

He’s not alone.

Nathan is part of a network 100,000 3DPrinterOS platform users. It is the software that powers the machines. The University of Chicago Lab School students along with engineers from M.I.T., CalTech, Google and Duke are using the technology to help manufacture critical supplies during the COVID-19 crisis.

John Dogru is the CEO Founder and Chief Architect at 3DPrinterOS.

“All of our users are starting to understand where they can build these parts,” he said. “And instead of waiting for parts to arrive from China, the whole entire community has jumped in and said ‘Hey, I can volunteer my printer. I can volunteer my time.’ And (I am) just really excited to see the participation across the United States and the world actually.”

Nathan works with the plastic prototype, which includes a disposable filter.

“And this filter area you can put a piece of N95 around it and it fits into the front of the mask,” he said. “So that way, after you are done using it, you can wash the whole mask and just change out the filter instead of using multiple parts.”

Nathan printed a smaller version for his mother, an emergency room doctor, to wear. It was washable with a disposable filter he’d like to make smaller on his own design.

“I really want to see if I can make these a lot thinner and make them more efficient,” he said.

Nathan has been at it for a couple of weeks. He has renderings on his computer and hopes to print his product by the end of the week.

“I have a couple different designs I’m working with,” he said. “And I’m trying to 3D scan faces to get it to a seamless fit. … I’m working on modeling something with a screw on piece because there’s still a little gap that would probably allow stuff to get through. And you probably wouldn’t be able to use this without a gasket.”

Nathan was introduced to 3D printing at summer camp. Since then, he’s been tinkering with the technology. He even designed and printed an airplane.

But at the moment, it’s masks that are on the mind of the 7th grader. It is a project that should no doubt earn him a little extra credit.

“It feels really nice,” he said.  “My mom was really proud of me for helping with all of this because she has to deal with it firsthand. And it’s really interesting. It means a lot.”

Nathan hopes his design can be manufactured inexpensively and for the masses.

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