Mason Forensic Science, Police departments team up to help medical responders

George Mason University’s Forensic Science and Police and Public Safety departments have teamed up to help medical personnel during the fight against COVID-19. 

Using 3D technology, they are making plastic extended straps that will allow doctors, nurses and other personnel to more comfortably wear the protective N95 masks for long periods while treating patients. Medical personnel have often endured chaffing and irritation behind their ears as a result of wearing the tight-fitting masks for extended periods of time. The plastic extended straps, which are being produced on a 3D printer acquired by the Forensics Science Department in January, will allow for considerably more comfort. 

“We get to help the medical community with a vital asset,” said Steven Burmeister, an associate professor in the Forensic Science Department within Mason’s College of Science and a former FBI explosives expert now serving as a reserve captain in the Mason Police and Public Safety Department. “It’s simple to make and is a simple fix to a problem. Our job is to get it to the practitioners. It means a lot to them.” 

The project began taking root when Mason police began hearing that medical personnel were wearing masks for 12 or more hours. 

“[COVID-19] is an invisible enemy that we can’t go after,” said Mason Police Capt. Michael F. Lighthiser. “But we know what it’s like for people to help us when it’s our job to deal with evil things.” 

Mason students serving as police cadets are also helping by volunteering to help with production following the conclusion of their shifts. Numerous Mason police officers and a department dispatcher have been trained in running the printing systems. Through their dedication, printing processes at several locations on campus have been kept running around the clock.   

The use of 3D technology is fairly common in forensic science, said Anthony Falsetti, the associate professor in Forensic Science who also helped put the project together. 

“As it turns out, this was our first and probably most important use of it,” he said. 

Production of the plastic band straps began slowly, but has ratcheted up as of late, with as many as 60 now being produced daily at one location, Burmeister said. Campus-wide production has also increased, and the straps are now being produced at several locations across campus with help from Karen Livingston, associate director of entrepreneurship programs at The MIX. 

Word about the project is getting out, and requests are coming in. Inova Health System has requested 10,000 plastic straps, while 50 were just delivered to the Washington, D.C., Medical Examiner’s Office. 

“It’s really been a great example of all the integral parts coming together and now blossoming,” Burmeister said.