The Face Shield Project: Q&A with Biology alumni James Tyrwhitt-Drake

UVic alumnus James Tyrwhitt-Drake manages a “print farm” from his home. Photo: James Tyrwhitt-Drake
UVic Biology alumnus James Tyrwhitt-Drake manages a “print farm” from his home. Photo: James Tyrwhitt-Drake

UVic Biology alumni James Tyrwhitt-Drake is playing a key role in a UVic effort to protect frontline health workers, by manufacturing medical-grade face shields for Island Health.

This has including sourcing materials, organizing volunteers and running a “print farm” in his own home made up of eight 3D printers, some of them borrowed from UVic’s Science Venture program.

What has your role been in the face shield project?

I have two roles: organization and manufacturing. I'm working closely with the UVic face shield project and a similar group on Salt Spring Island to create assembly lines for face shields—sourcing materials, testing designs, figuring out sterilization and packaging, and working with volunteers to scale up production of 3D-printed parts. I've also been running a “print farm” in my house, using eight 3D printers to fabricate components for 100 face shields per day. It can be overwhelming, but it is also amazing to see so many people helping however they can.

What inspired you to get involved?

Prusa, a Czech 3D printer manufacturer, sent out a mass email to their customers on March 19, describing the 3D-printed face shields they had designed. It seemed like an effective way to use my skills to support health care providers. I connected with my colleagues on Salt Spring to organize an assembly line for face shields, and borrowed 3D printers from Science Venture—my employer at UVic. Through Science Venture, I connected with others at UVic who were also making face shields and we synchronized our efforts.

When did you graduate and in what?

I graduated from UVic in 2014 with a BSc in Biology, and my career has been focused on scientific visualization. From 2015 to 2017, I worked at the US National Institutes of Health on a project called the “NIH 3D Print Exchange,” which promotes the application of 3D printing in the biosciences.

Are you working now?

I currently work in science visualization with Bryn Finer Studios, producing 3D topographic maps for Parks Canada visitor centres. I also work in education, teaching students through Science Venture. Both my employers have been essential to getting this project going. (UVic’s Science Venture program has been delivering innovative science, technology, engineering and math programs to Vancouver Island youth since 1991.)

What is your hope for this project?

My primary hope is to save lives by supporting the heroic health care providers on the front line of this pandemic. They are putting themselves at risk looking after the people we love. We are literally making armour for them to fight this virus. If we can help them, there will be less suffering, fewer lives cut short, and our society will be able emerge from this crisis sooner rather than later.

Read more: New UVic initiative fashions face shields for frontline health workers