Katie Chai, 18, of Charlotte, North Carolina, a senior at Charlotte Latin School, helped start a grassroots effort to address the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) in her city by using 3D printers and laser cutters to make more than 100,000 face shields, which were ultimately distributed to health care workers across North Carolina and in 12 other states. As the daughter of two doctors, Katie was really worried about her parents’ safety when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March of 2020. “Our quarantine dinner conversations mainly revolved around our communal and nationwide shortage of PPE,” she said. But one night her father showed her an article about engineers in Italy who were 3D printing parts for their respirators. Having taken engineering classes at school, Katie wondered whether face shields could be made with her school’s 3D printer.
She immediately called her engineering teacher, who agreed to help. Within three days, they had printed and laser-cut their first face shield in the school’s engineering lab. Five days later, they delivered 40 shields to a local hospital. To ramp up production, Katie sought donations through GoFundMe and media interviews, drove around town to buy supplies, and began assembling shields with her family every night. As word of her project spread, more than 400 volunteers offered to help with the assemblies, and other high schools, universities, businesses and local engineers began producing shields with their own 3D printers. In a little over a month, Katie’s initiative raised more than $114,000 and delivered more than 106,000 face shields to protect healthcare workers.