The Good News Blog: Creative Solutions Just Keep Coming

Thayer builds a better face mask; "Pine Pals" connects students and Upper Valley elders.

Across the Dartmouth community, scattered during the pandemic, students, faculty, and staff are taking stock of their talents and resources and putting them to use to help in this unprecedented time of crisis. The following are just a few of the many stories of service. If you have a story of good works to share, send it to william.c.platt@dartmouth.edu with the subject heading: GOOD NEWS BLOG. Read the first installment of the blog.

Thayer Team Conceives, Manufactures High-Performance PPE Facemask

Associate Professor of Engineering Solomon Diamond is heading up Thayer School of Engineering'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.

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 Gary Hutchins in the Thayer machine shop. A team of 25 Thayer faculty and staff volunteers have organized home sewing kits with detailed assembly procedures and quality control conducted by Thayer Lecturer Ryan Chapman.

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Ezra Gilbert-Diamond, age 5, demonstrates the Logo wire-cutting jig he helped his father, Associate Professor Solomon Diamond, design for the Dartmouth High Performance Mask project.
Ezra Gilbert-Diamond, age 5, demonstrates the Logo wire-cutting jig he helped his father, Associate Professor Solomon Diamond, design for the Dartmouth High Performance Mask project. (Photo by Solomon Diamond)

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 Formula Hybrid, Thayer's competitive hybrid car design team. 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.

Mallory Byrd '19, Thayer '20, 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.

"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."

'Pine Pals' Connects Undergraduates and Upper Valley Seniors

An expanding group of Dartmouth students, now more then 25, are hand writing "Pine Pal" letters to seniors in the Upper Valley, reaching out to break through the isolation many elderly people are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The idea of pairing student and senior citizen pen pals started with Amanda Chen '21, a psychology major who is now studying remotely from California. Through her affiliation with the Dartmouth Mental Health Student Union, she had volunteered with a number of senior care programs. When the pandemic forced everyone into isolation, she immediately thought of her older friends in the Dartmouth community.

"I was reading the news about how people in senior living homes and long-term care weren't allowed to have visitors anymore, and it made me see how this pandemic is exacerbating the loneliness epidemic that was happening even before all of this started," Chen says.

She was talking with Lee Witters, the Eugene W. Leonard 1921 Professor of Medicine, Medical Education & Biochemistry at the Geisel School of Medicine and adviser to the Mental Health Student Union, and he suggested she contact Robert Santulli, a visiting associate professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, and a physician with the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Aging Resource Center, who was thinking along the same lines.

Chen, Santulli, and Witters say as word spreads through contacts with local agencies, senior centers, and area media, the program continues to grow.

"We're all spread out across the country but we're all trying to stay connected to the Dartmouth Upper Valley community," Chen says. "It is the kind of place that just stays in your heart."

Students send hand-written letters, telling their "Pine Pal" something about themselves; they describe how they are coping during the pandemic, ask the elder about their situation, and invite the person to write back. A stamped, self-addressed envelope is included in each letter sent.

This program is open to seniors in Vermont and New Hampshire, whether they are living at home, or in a long-term care or other facility. For more information, or to sign up someone who would like to receive a letter, send an email with the name and address of the elder to: PinePals2020@gmail.com.

Dartmouth Good News Roll Call

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Jeff Losurdo '22 distributes face shields made at home on a 3-D printer to health care workers in his home state of Illinois.
Jeff Losurdo '22 distributes face shields made at home on a 3-D printer to health care workers in his home state of Illinois. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Losurdo)

Jeff Losurdo '22 got a big shout out from Dartmouth Men's Ice Hockey recently after the Big Green forward made the circuit of nursing homes near his hometown community of Elmhurst, Ill., with his mother, donating full-face plastic visor masks to healthcare staff. Losurdo's brother made the masks at home on a 3D printer.

Dartmouth Athletics and Recreation's FLIP Program and Wellness at Dartmouth are offering 12 free classes a week open to anyone. The offerings include Yoga, Zumba, DartFIT (circuit conditioning), and Torso Fitness/Core Conditioning. Normally these classes require a Dartmouth ID to sign up, but Hugh Mellert, Dartmouth athletics and recreation fitness director, says community members who would like to join can contact him directly at Hugh.S.Mellert@dartmouth.edu. "With all activities in athletics and recreation being shut down, we know that people are searching for ways to relieve stress and stay in shape. We feel proud that we can contribute to the well-being of the campus community during these trying times," Mellert says.

Jenny Chen '21, a double major in quantitative social science and biology, has been working at the Fogarty International Center, a unit in the National Institutes of Health, since January. At the Fogarty Center, Chen has been involved with a variety of COVID-19-related projects, including exploring crowd-sourced data from a physician's website produced in China, looking at COVID-19-related mortality rates across the United States, and predicting the outbreak of the disease in places like South Africa and Pakistan. Chen says she has drawn heavily on her experiences in "Quantitative Social Sciences 17, Data Visualization," a course she took at Dartmouth in summer 2019.

William Platt can be reached at william.c.platt@dartmouth.edu.