Courtesy of Sam Feibel

Sam Feibel '20 (left) designing a prototype with another team member.

April 29, 2020

Student Spotlight on Sam Feibel ’20: Designing Ventilator Prototypes to Aid U.S. Hospitals

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Sam Feibel ’20 has been using his time at home to design and build ventilators, hoping to aid in the shortage plaguing hospitals across the country due to the current pandemic.

He began working for The Ventilator Project, a nonprofit organization created this past March by two Boston entrepreneurs, after returning home to Boston from Cornell. The nonprofit aims to develop low cost and mass-producible ventilators in order to help save lives.

As of late April, the coronavirus has impacted virtually every corner of the United States. From quickly plaguing cities like New York, New Orleans and San Francisco to slowly hitting smaller communities in waves, many hospitals are now understaffed and face extreme medical supply shortage.

The Ventilator Project has two goals: to develop ventilators with simple functionality, and to ensure that they can manufacture them without disrupting medical supply lines.

Feibel started working for the Ventilator Project after his friend told him about an organization that needed engineers.

“I kept seeing doctors and medical staff in the news working non-stop and had the urge to do something but didn’t know what until I got this message. The founder called me and I was in the building 3 hours after that, starting to build,” Feibel said.

The team, which began with two individuals, has expanded to over 200 volunteers. Team members include individuals from Google and the White House. Feibel is one of 15 student engineers on the team working on designing and building ventilators.

“Most of my days here are filled with organizing tasks and communication, designing specific hardware prototype parts, and iterating on our general flow model,” Feibel said.

Since Feibel was the second college engineer to join the team, he played a major role in shaping each prototype. One prototype the team worked on is called “Aira,” which has double the air capacity of ordinary ventilators, according to its website. The team is now waiting for the Food and Drug Administration to approve of the ventilator before it can be mass produced.

For building ventilators, the skills Feibel uses the most are system organization and hardware design, which he learned from his involvement in CUAir, a Cornell project team that designs, builds and operates aircrafts.

“Most ventilators out there are extremely complex, expensive, and capable machines, but are also expensive and cannot be manufactured at the same rate as they are currently needed,” Feibel said.

As a senior studying engineering physics, Feibel began his masters degree in engineering this semester through the engineering school’s early admission M.Eng program for Cornell undergraduate students. After graduation, Feibel hopes to work in the aerospace industry.

While The Ventilator Project has been working tirelessly to produce cutting edge machines, Feibel admitted that it is up in the air if the ventilators will be used in the first wave of the pandemic. Instead, it is more likely that the ventilators will be more useful during an anticipated second wave of the pandemic, which experts worry will be even worse than the first.

“At the end of the day, if our team and everyone that donated can put something together that can save one person and help one family, then that will have been enough,” Feibel said.