Skip to main content

Department of Applied Physical Sciences Response to COVID-19

As COVID-19 disrupted our lives, the Department of Applied Physical Sciences responded to challenges presented. We repurposed our BeAM makerspaces to mass produce personal protective equipment (PPE) for the UNC healthcare system. Some faculty members focused new research on COVID-19. APS courses incorporated COVID-19 topics. And, our facilities stepped up to donate PPE.

Making: BeAM PPE Initiative

BeAM, our network of makerspaces, is partnering with NC State University and Duke to produce 40,000 face shields to help fill the need for PPE in UNC Health Care facilities. Rich Superfine (APS Chair), Kenny Langley (BeAM Director), Glenn Walters (APS teaching faculty and Lead Engineer), Theo Dingemans (APS faculty), Michelle Bolas (Associate Vice Chancellor for Innovation Strategy and Programs, Innovate Carolina), and Cindy Reifsnider (Research and Impact Director of Innovate Carolina) have been instrumental in this effort, along with dozens of BeAM student staff, UNC medical student workers, and other volunteers. Learn more about the BeAM responses to COVID-19.

BeAM PPE Initiative


The Freeman, Forest, and Lai labs were awarded NSF-RAPID funding for Covid-19 research.
Collaborative research between the Freeman lab, Forest research group, and the Lai research group in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy was awarded NSF-RAPID funding for Covid-19 research.

The NSF-RAPID funding supports non-medical, non-clinical-care research that can be used immediately to explore how to model and understand the spread of COVID-19, to inform and educate about the science of virus transmission and prevention, and to encourage the development of processes and actions to address this global challenge.

The Freeman lab was awarded funding for two collaborative Covid-19 research grants by Research Corporation for Science Advancement .
With the funding of these projects, RCSA is seeking to bring perspectives from the physical sciences to bear on the detection and treatment of this and future pandemics. The Freeman Lab is thrilled for the opportunity to contribute to the global effort to combat the coronavirus.

Teaching and Learning

Create Your Own Face Shield
Former Chair of Applied Physical Sciences and Boshamer Professor of Chemistry, Ed Samulski, developed a way to create your own face shield. If you don’t have access to the maker spaces, retired chemistry professor Ed Samulski has developed a way to create your own face shield – with just scissors, tape and a two-liter bottle.

A 5-week Design Sprint to Address Covid-19 Safety Challenges
Professor Rich Goldberg’s Turning Your Entrepreneurial Ideas into Reality class (APPL412) has pivoted for their final project work. In APPL412, students identify needs that could be addressed with an innovative device or product, and work in groups on a semester project to turn their entrepreneurial ideas into reality. Students have faced different challenges and new opportunities this spring 2020 semester. Take a look at some of their resulting projects!

In spring 2020, APPL412 went virtual in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the students scattered and no access to our makerspace facilities, we realized that it would be difficult for the students to complete the projects that they had started. Instead, we did a 5-week design sprint, brainstorming new project ideas that are related to the need for everyone to stay safe and healthy during the pandemic. Students developed these designs so that materials were easy to obtain and they could complete the fabrication at home with minimal resources. We are sharing these ideas with the public so that you can duplicate them for your own use.

Adapting Makerspace Courses to At-Home Prototypes
With the BeAM makerspaces closed, students no longer had access to the tools they needed to complete the projects they had planned for the semester. Teaching faculty got creative in adapting their maker-integrated courses with the help of Anna Engelke, BeAM Education Program Manager.

Together, they worked to brainstorm alternative project goals: surveying students to see if they could make low-fidelity prototypes at home, refocusing on digital deliverables like Adobe Illustrator files, or using reflective assignments to dig deeper into a completed prototype. Anna hosted regular community Zoom meetings among makerspace faculty to foster collaborative brainstorming, peer feedback, and out-of-the-box solutions.

Virtual Field Trips
Glenn Walters’ APPL110 class Introduction to Design and Making: Developing Your Personal Design Potential, has made many adjustments to accommodate the virtual learning environment. One opportunity that’s been created is a virtual field trip to Beechwood Metalworks. The BeAM Makerspace network is working with Beechwood to source materials for the BeAM PPE initiative so students will learn first-hand how design must consider materials.

Soft Matter Final Project on Coronaviruses
Daphne Klotsa’s Soft Matter class (APPL465, Sponge Bob SquarePants and other Soft Materials) is completing a final project on coronaviruses. The topic is Corona Virus, the (soft matter) science behind it!

Convergent Engineering and COVID-19
Students in Ronit Freeman’s class, APPL390: Team-Science Approaches to Discovery and Innovation, are developing projects to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Projects include using datamining software to collate global research efforts about COVID-19, creating “smart soaps” and hand sanitizers that change colors to indicate cleanliness and safe sanitizing practices, and learning how to accurately validate scientific information and news stories. The students hope to make the tools available to the public.

PPE Donations

Thanks to Carrie Donley and CHANL for coordinating the donation of more than 70 boxes of gloves for medical workers! Read the story of how people across campus are responding to the need for PPE and supplies.

APS in the News

Molecular approaches to detect, mitigate COVID-19

Freeman, Forest study lungs & COVID-19

Joining forces on face shields

Pandemic lessons and convergent science

There’s work to be done

Medical students make PPE

Firing up the face shield engineer