Marco Island students use 3D printers to make respirator masks
Johnathan Watt, a junior at Marco Island Academy, did not think twice to lead a mask making project using 3D printers when the opportunity came up.
A school donor had learned about an initiative in Michigan where students printed masks for the community amid the coronavirus pandemic but the academy's only 3D printer was busted, according to Jane Watt, chairperson of MIA's board of directors and mother of Johnathan.
The donor said he would pay for a new printer for the school if the students would take on a project like the one he saw in Michigan.
As word of the project got around, two other donors stepped up to donate a printer each but they could not be delivered to the school because students are taking classes online at home.
"At that time I was not sure how would we implement something like that because we are not at the school," Jane Watt said.
Johnathan Watt said "I can do it" despite not taking any courses involving 3D printing, according to his mother. He reached out to classmates and assisted in installing the printers.
Jane Watt said she made sure the printers were placed in homes were she knew the families would take good care of them and the parents would be engaged with the project.
"The printers are very expensive and secondly it is a very intensive project," she said. "You really have to pay attention to what you are doing and set up the equipment the right way."
Guided by a blueprint of the masks, the 3D printers melt the raw material and deposit it one layer at a time, according to Johnathan Watt. The printed masks have filters like N95 respirator masks but they have not been certified as such.
In about three weeks the students printed 25 masks with elastics to wear them without hurting the user's ears, according to Johnathan Watt.
"These are stressful times for everybody and I just felt, even though it's small, it's a way to give back to the community," he said.
Brothers Colby and Tyler Chute, a freshman and a junior respectively, have enjoyed printing masks in their home.
"I liked learning more about how to operate the 3D printer and the different things that it can be used for," Colby Chute wrote. "I am interested in engineering and am excited to apply what I’ve learned in the future."
"I was happy to get involved in this project for MIA and be able to do something for the community while working from home."
Brothers Matthew and Nicholas Vergo, a junior and a sophomore respectively, are also printing masks.
The 3D printers will be used for an engineering class and in the past they have been used to print items for performing art productions, according to Jane Watt.
"It will be a huge advantage for the school even after the students are done making the masks," she said.
Melissa Scott, school principal, wrote the students made her proud.
"When I speak to my staff, family, or friends, and they ask me about my greatest challenge regarding virtual learning, it is the same answer every time - being separated from the students," she wrote.
"Yet, the students have stayed true to themselves and continue to reveal their kind hearts and caring spirits through projects like this one."
The masks will be delivered to medical personnel and as the students print more Watt said the school will reach out to the city of Marco Island to provide masks to its first responders.
Omar Rodríguez Ortiz is a community reporter for Naples Daily News and Marco Eagle. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram as @Omar_fromPR, and on Facebook. Support his work by subscribing to Naples Daily News.