While some teens deal with parental and peer pressure to do all sorts of things, 19-year-old Karina Popovich was tasked with something quite different. Towards the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic, friends and family urged Karina to make 3D-printed PPE, or personal protective equipment, to help address the PPE crisis. Emergency room physicians were in dire need of masks and face shields.

3D-Printing PPE While Sheltering-in-Place

“I didn’t start making PPE earlier, because I thought we would never come to a place in the world where a 19-year-old would be needing to do this with her 3D printer,” Karina said.

As the news and the virus that causes COVID-19 spread, Karina realized that her friends and family were right—the U.S. was amid a sincere crisis, and it was all hands on deck.

Back at home from her studies at Cornell, Karina got to work. She began researching how to produce 3D printed, medical-grade PPE.

And her work quickly began to spread, as it does for many Generation Zers, on Instagram. She posted the face shields she made, and soon, requests for her “homemade” medical-grade face shields, face masks, ventilator valves, and mask clips took off. In the same 24 hours, she started printing face shields and formed a new coalition on Slack of hobbyists and 3-D printer owners who were not only based in the U.S. but around the world. 

Makers for COVID-19

This coalition is now known as Makers for COVID-19. “Overnight, the group grew to be 170+ members strong and one of the largest Maker collaborations for COVID-19 with new members flooding in every day. On top of moderating the slack and creating resources for our makers, [Karina was] running [her] printers 24/7, setting timers, and waking up in the middle of the night to start a new print the minute a previous print is complete,” the website says. 

To give you a sense of just how much of an undertaking Karina took on, she also had the stress of finals to take on. On her website, Karina wrote: “4 of the 7 past few days I spent delivering PPE. The night before each day I am assembling, planning out a route, and figuring out who to donate to. It gets intense especially when you throw in finals and running 300 makers into the mix.”

Karina Popovich delivers her 3D-printed PPE to a facility in Queens, New York. Image source: www.instagram.com/karina.popovic

All of the members of Makers for COVID-19 are volunteers. In addition to their time, they donate their 3D printers and materials to the cause.

Leaning Into Collaboration and Community

Guides for 3D-printing the highest medical and sanitation grade-PPE possible are open-source to help other maker communities to “fight for the same mission, rather than one-upping each other,” Karina said.

To meet the demand for PPE Karina said, “It’s not easy to keep up with, and it’s even harder when I get so wrapped up in what needs to be done that I forget why I am doing this in the first place.”

But Makers for COVID-19 does go the extra mile, sending some PPE donations to doctors with special notes written by community members (some are even kindergarteners!) On the website, Ting Z. wrote: “The messages are wonderful! They keep us going!”

Makers for COVID-19 3D-Printed PPE Donation Map

Source: www.makersforcovid19.com/ as of December 12, 2020

A+ Effort

“Seeing it all come together, seeing just how much of a difference this is making in people’s lives, seeing the 3D-printer community rally up like this, and realizing that this will be a turning point for 3D-printing and STEM education, ignites me to push forward and go even harder,” said Karina.

While Karina’s movement to make 3D-printed PPE began with a dream, a basement, and a lot of time while sheltering-in-place, her accolades are high: Karina was honored by Entrepreneurship at Cornell University, the Clinton Global Initiative University COVID-19 Response Award, and made this year’s Teen Vogue’s 21 Under 21 list.

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Ali Hickerson

About Ali Hickerson