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Thayer Builds a Better Face Mask

May 20, 2020   |   by Bill Platt   |   Dartmouth News

Dartmouth engineering professor Solomon Diamond is heading up Thayer School's high-performance mask project, which involves scores of faculty, staff, and students. Diamond and his team are designing, testing, and assembling nonmedical face masks with a higher level of protection than standard cloth masks. The masks will be provided to community members who are at higher risk from COVID-19 and for service providers in the community who interact with high-risk populations.

"When the PPE shortage first came into focus, like many people, I started looking around for ways to make masks," says Diamond, whose work at Dartmouth focuses on biomedical imaging.

The development process went through many iterations, all based on the concept of incorporating a high-grade filter material into a cloth mask design. Initially Diamond consulted doctors, nurses, and health and safety specialists at DHMC, engineering design colleagues at Thayer, and engineers at Hypertherm.

Ryan Chapman with newly made masks

Over time, the team grew, involving other faculty and staff, including the Thayer Machine Shop, where Operations Manager Lee Schuette and Technical Instructor Scott Ramsey created laser-cutting profiles and began producing the material components with assistance from the Shop's Gary Hutchins. A team of 25 Thayer faculty and staff volunteers have organized home sewing kits with detailed assembly procedures and quality control conducted by Thayer researcher Ryan Chapman.

Many other students and staff are working on logistics. Distribution to the community will begin soon, with help from Thayer Human Resources Director Peg DeLucia and Jess Kinzie of Thayer's Formula Hybrid competition. It's also a family affair, as Diamond's wife, Diane Gilbert-Diamond, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Geisel School of Medicine, helped in the design and assembly process and Diamond's children helped cut wires for the masks, using a jig made from Legos.

"This project brings together all the core elements of what Thayer School and Dartmouth are all about—addressing a need in society, technical innovation, human-centered design—and deals with taking ideas from concept into practice, addressing the full range of requirements from supply chain management through to production quality control and distribution." —Professor Sol Diamond

BE candidate Mallory Byrd '19 had just finished her engineering capstone project with Diamond and planned to be either home or in Geneva for an internship during spring term. But she ended up staying in Hanover after it was announced that Dartmouth would move to remote learning for spring term, and she volunteered to help with her former professor's project as soon as she heard about it.

Mallory Byrd at the sewing machine
BE candidate Mallory Byrd '19 works on a stockpile of high-performance masks.

"She's worked hundreds of hours helping with logistics, packing and distributing materials for our sewing team and collecting the finished masks," Diamond says.

Byrd says she is grateful for the chance to do something to help combat the spread of COVID-19.

"For me, it feels like this is a time to be constantly thinking about how you can help. And what's kept me going is that there are all of these people at Thayer who are so willing and so engaged with this project," Byrd says. "It's so emblematic of the spirit of Thayer engineering that the professors and the staff are always thinking of how to employ engineering for the benefit of others."

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