Local high school students tasked with creating prototypes for life-saving ventilators

Posted at 4:57 AM, Aug 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-05 14:13:56-04

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - With a shortage of ventilators across the nation, a handful of local high school students were put to the test to create a ventilator prototype at ECPI University.

There were 15 students from Hampton and Phoebus High Schools who spent four weeks of their summer vacations at the university's Summer Institute. The group included Jacob Rowland and his teammates Amir Williams, Kyler Brinkley and Justin Hendrick.

“You could have this product connect to a hose and extend it so you could have a mouthpiece movable,” Rowland explained as he demonstrated their prototype. “The motor would go in here, and pretty much it would go down and squeeze this.”

Their device consists of a blue base where a pump was placed that would be pressed on by a movable arm. The pump has a bag and connector for a tube. A motor goes into an orange cylinder compartment that controls the arm.

"I always wanted to kind of work on my CAD software skills. I was like, 'This will be fun,'” Rowland said, explaining why he joined the Summer Institute.

The program taught the students engineering and technology, simulating a real-world scenario. The program, which began on July 12, lasted about two weeks.

On Wednesday, the students presented their prototypes to each other, staff and affiliated organizers. That included John Spallone, director of product development at Spectrum Com Inc.

”They can actually contribute in a way that they may be hadn't thought, or that this might’ve been what they thought was beyond the reach,” Spallone said. "When they start working on a project like this, they can see, 'Wow, I can actually do this.' I think that’s a really important thing really young."

ECPI University provided the resources so the students could produce their prototypes. There was a 3-D printer that printed the parts for the prototypes and a computer that generated the blueprints for the pieces.

"What we do is we use this to actually slice layers for the 3-D printing parts,” Dr. Chris Fritzel, ECPI’s engineering technology program director, said as he demonstrated one of the parts used for a prototype. “If you look really closely, you can actually see the layers in these 3-D printed parts.

Fritzel was one of the program’s overseers and assisted the students during the program.

“I love seeing the new ideas, the new approaches to solving problems, that light bulb when they solve these problems," Fritzel said.

For Rowland and his team, he said they are not done, adding there is more work to do.

"Mr. Fritzel... he said that he’s going to be working on this a little more, maybe send us videos and maybe in the fall take a field trip back up here,” Rowland said.