OSKALOOSA — The Communication Research Institute at William Penn University was developed to study the convergence of art and technology as it applies to storytelling, but its MediaLab has recently swung into action fighting the COVID-19 virus by making personal protective equipment for Mahaska Health.

Markus Haala, a visual artist with the CRI Media Lab, located on the campus of William Penn University, approached Mahaska Health with the idea.

Haala, 36, an Oskaloosa transplant from Germany by way of Boston, said Mahaska Health thought it was a great idea.

“So we have a prototype and have ordered materials to make as many as possible until the crisis ends,” he said. “The goal is to provide as much protection as possible for health workers. A mask that is moderately effective is better than no mask at all, and not every worker needs an N95 mask for every task. By freeing up more capable masks, our masks, which can be cleaned and reloaded with filters between uses, will help keep up with PPE.”

The idea for the masks came from Lowell Makes, (https://lowellmakes.com), a visual arts combine located in Lowell, Massachusetts, near where Haala lived.

CRI Director Steve Jackson said the Communication Research Institute was started by community leaders to “provide the local community a team of scholars dedicated to solving problems.”

“Professor Haala is an example of why every community needs to have access to its own small work centers capable of rapidly tackling problems with innovative solutions,” he said.

Jackson said as of Thursday, March 26, Mahaska Health had not given approval of the mask. If final approval by the health center isn’t given, however, CRI will still be distributing masks to law enforcement and others.

The Communications Research Institute recently has been working with Silverwind Productions to produce the movie ‘Saving Billie Valentine,’ and with the California State System to create a method for California students to study advanced technology on the campus of William Penn University, who hosts and supports the institute.

Editor’s note: Jackson has invited those who are willing to donate to the cause to purchase the primary material the masks are made from: https://www.matterhackers.com/store/l/175mm-pla-filament-lightblue-1-kg/sk/M4M03KA6

Jackson said at least 10 rolls are needed per week to operate.

“CRI has all of its printers and all staff not working with student education on this project,” he said, “but we want to keep going in case of contingency. If a patron would provide us with $500, it would purchase a new printer and a week’s supplies to make masks.”

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