News & Features

New mask made with 3D printer

Illini students making masks for people with spinal cord injuries

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused people to pause plans, change directions and pivot to new careers. For two Illinois students, it means becoming inventors and distributors.

Joey Peters, a PhD candidate in Kinesiology and Community Health, and Gies College of Business alum Arielle Rausin collaborated on a grant application to make protective masks for people with spinal cord injuries, and found out this week that the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation—which focuses on funding projects for people with an SCI—awarded them a $10,000 grant.

The funding is provided through the Neilsen Emergency grants, which are intended to directly support the provision of services to those living with SCI and their caretakers to relieve the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic. People with SCI have above-average risk in the COVID-19 pandemic due to the prevalence of comorbidities that could complicate any SARS-CoV-2 infection. Also, obtaining effective masks for people with SCI has proven challenging.

Peters and Rausin will help make 750 masks, using 3D printers located at Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES), and the company Rausin started, Ingenium Manufacturing. 

It’s fitting that DRES is involved since that is where Peters and Rausin met. Peters was a renowned gymnast when he got to Urbana-Champaign in 2013, as a two-year American junior national team member. He quickly established himself as a star athlete on campus, however, he sustained a left rotator cuff injury before his senior year and could not compete that season. 

The time away from competing allowed him to reflect on what was next and he decided to pursue a master’s degree in Kinesiology. His advisor, Laura Rice, is married to Ian Rice, another member of the KCH faculty and a former gymnast himself. 

“Dr. Ian Rice had a research project looking at pressure, like preventing pressure ulcers and adapted sport equipment,” Peters said. “And so it seemed kind of interesting. So I wanted to get involved in it, so I got involved in that project and did my masters with that. And with that, I kind of got involved with the racing team here, doing research on them. And then, next thing you know, I'm volunteering, going out on the road with them, and kind of fell in love with the sport. And that was about four years ago, four or five years ago, and I'm still here." 

Peters became the grad assistant for the wheelchair track team, and that’s how he met Rausin, one of the athletes. Rausin herself has a spinal cord injury.

Since Peters plans to focus on SCI research and preventing secondary complications with SCI, working with Rausin made perfect sense.

“Arielle has an amazing 3D printing company, and it just seemed like a really good fit for the whole sort of COVID relief kind of plan to action,” Peters said.  “We thought it could be a really cool idea to help people in need in the SCI community.”

This grant won’t be the first time Rausin has put her skill to good use for a good cause. 

In a class during her junior year, she was tasked with creating a prototype of a useable product. Thanks to her passion for wheelchair racing, and a challenge from her coach, she decided to make wheelchair racing gloves. A good pair of wheelchair racing gloves is as important as good shoes for a marathon runner, but they’re very costly, going for as much as $250 a pair. Rausin decided to create a more durable, more affordable solution.

From that idea was born her company, Ingenium Manufacturing, in 2016, currently the only business in the country which offers wheelchair racing products using 3D scanning and printing technology.

In the grant application, Peters and Rausin said they could begin production on the masks within a week of securing funding. Rausin said logistics of distribution haven’t been worked out yet, but they’ll be working with DRES partners, and they plan to mail some to Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association (GLASA), a youth organization in Chicago that promotes physical activities for people with a physical or visual disability.

The masks have been approved by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but they’re not taking supplies from N95 masks that are meant for first responders and hospitals, Rausin said.

“The 3D printed mask that we're going to be distributing, it's meant for community use,” she said. “It's going to protect people better than the cloth masks or bandannas or whatever that they have around their home. And so this is just an opportunity for us to give them a free mask that's going to be better than their own, but still not taking away from the need that doctors and hospitals have.

“This was a perfect opportunity for us to be able to donate the use of the printers towards a good cause, and use them to help people.”


back to news