Turns Out Nerds Were Cool All Along

April 23, 2020 - By Tierna Unruh-Enos

3d printer
Students set up 3D printer in Heather Canavan’s garage

It’s called ScrubHub ABQ, and it’s the endeavor of a hard-working, small group of students in the UNM Engineering Department. The project is the brainchild of UNM Chemical and Biological Engineering professor Heather Canavan, who wanted to fill the need for Personal Protection Equipment for health care workers in Albuquerque and employ out-of-work students.

“I knew I had 3D printers that I had in my garage. I know a lot of other professors and nerds have them in their garage too,” Canavan says. “And I thought this could be a way of doing what we're doing in school with adaptive design, but for approaches to the coronavirus.”

Canavan and her students are creating designs for manufacturing face protective gear and hand sanitizer dispensers, and for cloth masks that students can make and distribute. She says there’s a lot of students in her department that are bartenders and servers at restaurants, that are now out of work due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. She wants to create a gig economy with limited interaction with other people, that can also get health care workers the PPE that they desperately need, and are not receiving for monetary or bureaucratic reasons.

On April 15, a group of employees from the University of New Mexico Hospital staged a protest cited lack of PPE equipment. UNMH is just one local example of many highlighting a national problem. According to the Center for Disease Control, PPE is vitally important in protecting health care workers from the air-born disease.

Ty Martin, a Biomedical Engineering student pitched the group’s idea to the 2020 Pitch-in Social Enterprise Challenge in a 90 second video, and won a $7,500 grant that will be used for supplies needed for the 3D printers and student stipends. “We thought of making this a GrubHub or Uber type of business model, and that would be a great marketing tool for us as well.”

Canavan has set up a GoFundMe page for community donations that will be used to purchase supplies and to employ her students until they are able to return to their jobs and school.