Their Robotics Season Ended. Their Work Didn't.

“It’s going to get a little bit noisy,” Luke Primis ’20 said.

Noisy, yes, but for a good cause. The near-constant rumble came from Primis’s basement, where he’ll be running two 3D printers almost continuously for the forseeable future. Those printers will be cranking out face shields, vital components of the masks that Primis and his friends are making to protect healthcare workers during the COVID-19 outbreak. Primis, Kamran Rowhani ’21, and Ian Palk ’20 teamed up to print, construct, and distribute the masks to local hospitals.

Originally, the students intended to use the printers for something else: producing parts for NASA’s international MATE ROV Competition. (MATE stands for “marine advanced technology education” and ROV is “remotely operated vehicle.”) But when Sidwell Friends School closed to promote social distancing, “we had to kind of evacuate the robotics lab because of the whole quarantine situation,” Primis said. “At that point, we weren’t sure whether we were going to be able to go to the competition, so the plan was to bring everything back to my house and work on it there.” Indeed, the competition—originally slated for May and June—was canceled in the wake of the virus, leaving the team with a bunch of equipment they no longer had use for. Or so they thought.

“This was a project that arose almost out of a lack of anything to do,” Palk said. “This was all of us being bored and wondering what we could be doing in this empty time, which is a scarce resource at Sidwell.” So, the students looked into the government’s specifications, found resources for makers, and started up production. “This has definitely given me a purpose to be doing something,” Palk said.

Rowhani began connecting with the healthcare community.

“I reached out to a lot of doctors,” he said. “And my mom, who’s a doctor, she reached out to some of her colleagues.” Rowhani came away with contacts at area hospitals like Suburban, Sibley, and Adventist. “I’m still expanding that list to get as many as possible. This is something that I can do that helps the community, especially the community I want to have a career in when I’m older.”

The trio now has four printers up and running. (In addition to the students’ three printers, the Norwood School, which Primis attended for nine years, leant them one.) It takes about three hours to produce one face shield, while the other components print much more quickly; once everything is ready to go, assembly only takes about 20 minutes. But Primis, Rowhani, and Palk are quick to emphasize that you don’t have to own a 3D printer to make vital contributions to their cause: They still need the raw materials.

“People who have no access to 3D printers but see the merit in this have reached out,” Primis said. The group particularly needs elastic to attach the mask to the wearer’s face and foam tape to make the mask more comfortable. They also need more printing materials.

“Having the robotics season canceled was heartbreaking because I’ve been the captain of the team for two years, and this year was going to be the culmination of my experience at Sidwell,” Primis said. “But this is even more fulfilling because placing high at a robotics competition—that’s only for us. It doesn’t really benefit anyone else if you go to a robotics competition and do well.” But, he said, “instead of the reward being, ‘Oh, we got a shiny trophy,’ the reward is, ‘I dropped off these masks at this anesthesiologist’s house the other day.’ In that moment, I thought, ‘This is such a gratifying feeling to be able to use my skills and my knowledge to give back to our community in such a great time of need.’”

“I think we look back in history and see these little actions that people did that made a big difference,” Palk said. “It’s cool that we are the people who are making a change.”

With the guidance of the School’s Center for Ethical Leadership, we have launched the Friends In Deed campaign to support our students with needed supplies to continue their great work with lifesaving service to our local communities.

Many Sidwell Friends students are involved in serving others during this time. If you know of a student who is making masks or serving in some other way, please email for possible inclusion in a future story.



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