May 8, 2020

Custom COVID-19 mask for health workers brings UCalgary alumni together

Engineering and communications grads take experience in custom footwear to next step in fight against global pandemic
Dr. Stanley Yung-Chuan Liu modelling mask
Dr. Stanley Yung-Chuan Liu modelling mask

From custom footwear to reusable custom facemasks designed to protect frontline workers, the fight against COVID-19 has two UCalgary alumni working together on a new project, a decade after graduation.

Jessica Cheung, BA’11, and Colin Lawson, BSc (Eng)’10, met as co-workers at Wiivv, a Vancouver company specializing in custom, 3D-printed footwear modeled from smartphone photos — a process remarkably similar to the procedure now being used to build custom masks for frontline responders.

“I wanted to get involved because of the open co-operation this project fostered, as well as the diverse team and specialized skills of those involved,” says Lawson, a mechanical engineering alumnus.

MyMaskMovement started in California

The project, called MyMaskMovement, was started in California by 3D industry expert Jesse Chang, who founded the project to get frontline health-care workers like his little brother and sister-in-law better protection.

Chang teamed up with leading facial skeletal and sleep apnea surgeon Dr. Stanley Yung-Chuan Liu of Stanford University's School of Medicine to establish MyMaskMovement, an app that employs 3D commercial printers and widely available face-recognition technology to change how masks are made.

  • Photo above: Stanley Yung-Chuan Liu models the mask. Photo courtesy MyMaskMovement

“I was very concerned with the shortage, and how dire the situation was to have forced hospital workers to use loose-fitting bandanas as surgical masks for protection when N95 masks were required,” explains Chang. “I felt a strong calling to do something about that.”

Face-scan technology creates custom fit

Using built-in, face-scan technology found in smartphones, the app from MyMaskMovement allows health-care workers to order a face mask completely personalized for their individual face shape. The underlying mask design itself has already been reviewed for clinical use through America’s National Institutes of Health.

Rigorously tested and taken to medical experts for design input, the masks will be manufactured in digital manufacturing print shops across North America and shipped directly to health-care workers within days, with the first 100 frontline workers expected to receive theirs this month.

UCalgary alumni key to project's success

Such rapid design and production required expertise, and that’s how Chang found the former Calgarians, as he built a team that now boasts over 50 volunteers with a wide range of skills.

“Jessica and Colin have been vital to our success,” says Chang. “Without them, we would not be where we are today, and their abilities and levels of commitment are remarkable. They are creative, persistent and always positive; they clearly understand how big the issue is.”

Goal is to save lives by protecting front line 

While Lawson’s skills have been focused on increasing the efficiency of the manufacturing process, and distribution at a mass scale, Cheung has been employing her business and communications background to support operations and partnership.

“Our goal is to save as many lives as quickly as possible by keeping medical workers in the fight against COVID-19 and combating the critical shortage of personal protective equipment,” says Cheung.

“I believe we should always strive to help our community and do the most good.”

MyMaskMovement is a nonprofit coalition of over 50 engineers, scientists, designers and doctors focused on one singular mission, to leverage their technology, design and medical expertise to find an easy, scalable solution to help solve the ongoing shortage of critical PPE.

MyMaskMovement aims to provide as many of these masks as possible for free to frontline health-care workers through crowdsourced funding and financial contributions from supporters to cover the cost of production.


UCalgary resources on COVID-19

For the most up-to-date information about the University of Calgary's response to the spread of COVID-19, visit the UCalgary COVID-19 Response website.