“When the pandemic started and school ended, I was watching the news and knew I wanted to help,” says Eric Zhang, 11, a fifth-grade student at the Jackson Walnut Park School in Newton. “I saw that hospitals were in short supply of personal protective equipment and I knew that was how I could make a difference.”

 Collage of kids
In this collage, children are seen holding messages of support for "hero" frontline workers. 

As a 3D printing student and enthusiast, Zhang researched PPE files that he could produce on his 3D printer at home. “I found a file for a reusable face shield and started to print them. I decided I would try to print 1,000 for health care workers,” he says.

Since Zhang’s shields are FDA and National Institutes of Health (NIH) compliant, he and a team of his peers began donating to local hospitals. He sent examples to the Mass General Brigham Center for COVID Innovation, led by Guillermo (Gary) Tearney, MD, PhD, and David Walt, PhD. “This is a feel good story and a good thing to do,” said Tearney. The team shared the face shields with the Prototype Center to be tested before sharing the donation with hospital staff.

Back in the Zhang house, one shield was taking four and a half hours to print and cost $1.50. “I did the math and realized it would cost $1500,” says Zhang. His younger brother Alex, a student at the Fessenden School in Newton, suggested creating a crowd fundraising page to fund the project. Within two days the page had raised over $2000. “I got very excited,” says Zhang. “But it was still taking over four hours to produce a single shield, so I knew we needed more help.”

Collage of kids
Another collage featuring the young participants.

More than 30 of his elementary and middle school aged peers from 11 local schools answered the rallying call. Zhang created a website, Kids’ 3D Printing Academy to teach his friends 3D printing online. Students with 3D printers began producing the face shields, with help from Zhang’s Zoom lessons, while those without access to 3D printers volunteered to help the group in other capacities. “Our group, Kids Print to Protect (KPP), now has six departments: Donor Relations, Technology, Public Relations, Supply Chain, Financials and Distribution.” On May 5, 300 masks were dropped off by the KPP team for Massachusetts General Hospital employees. 

KPP is printing more than 60 NIH-recommended reusable face shields a day and dropping off their donations to Boston-area hospitals every two-to-three days. They have reactivated their fundraising page to meet the requests from local hospitals. “If this pandemic continues, we won’t just stop at 1,000 masks, we are running the fundraiser again so we can keep printing,” says Zhang. “I hope that other people will copy our model to help doctors, nurses and other health care workers fight COVID-19.”

Although the fifth-grader is not sure what he wants to be when he gets older, he says, “I just want to do something that I like and I know I like helping people because when I do, I get this warm fuzzy feeling in my heart.”