Sam Suchin is going places.
A Pikesville High School junior, Sam is the founder of Hope3D, an online platform that connects a global community of “makers” who use home 3D printing to solve complex health and environmental problems.
His goal, he says, is “to harness technology for good.”
For the uninitiated, 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a way of creating three-dimensional, solid objects from a digital file. The process involves the successive layering of material to build the objects.
Most recently, Sam and Hope3D spearheaded “Project Shield” to produce protective face masks for medical personnel caring for patients with the coronavirus. Sam credits Mike Adelstein, president and CEO of Baltimore-based Potomac Photonics, for donating the plastic material used for the masks, which when worn over surgical masks provides the level of protection recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Currently, they are being used by physicians at Sinai Hospital. Sam says doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital may begin using them soon as well.
Dr. Neil Roy, Sinai’s chief of emergency, says he could not be more impressed with Sam’s initiative.
“Sam is a wonderful kid who works endlessly to contribute to any cause,” says Dr. Roy. “He found our need in the hospital, found a solution and executed.”
Project Shield wasn’t Sam’s first foray into the 3D printing world.
“When I was 12 or 13, I saw a YouTube video about 3D printing and I was fascinated that you could have a mini-factory in your room,” recalls Sam. “It was like sci-fi, like ‘Star Wars!’”
Sam, 17, who lives with his family in Pikesville, wanted his own 3D printer. But when they first hit the market, 3D printers were prohibitively expensive.
Determined to try 3D printing, Sam, a Chizuk Amuno congregant, saved money from his bar mitzvah and birthday and purchased an affordable 3D printer. But he was disappointed with the printer’s capabilities.
In 2017, he saw an advertisement for the “Envision the Future Design Challenge,” which awarded the winning entry with a high-quality 3D printer. Sam decided to enter, and his a 3D Braille map of the United States for the visually impaired won first prize in the under-18 category of the contest.
With the printer, Sam took on more sophisticated projects such as creating prosthetic hands with Enabling the Future, one of the contest sponsors. Sam was paired with a 9-year-old girl.
“I got photos of her limbs so that I was able to make the hand and size it to fit her,” he says. “For me, it was just incredible. I just wanted to keep doing it.”
After studying marine biology in school, Sam conceptualized his next project, creating an artificial coral reef. The project, funded by a grant from a nonprofit called The Pollination Project, aimed to restore dying coral reefs in a low-cost, efficient and bio-friendly way. Frequently, says Sam, marine biology residents use fish-aggregating objects such as golf carts and tires to attract aquatic organisms. Sam’s artificial reef attracts fish, algae and aquatic organisms without harming the aquatic ecosystem.
Sam created a prototype of the coral reef he wanted to build. Then, he made a YouTube video, exhibiting the prototype and asking makers to contribute parts to the project. Approximately 400 people from locations as far away as China and Russia responded, sending Lego-like pieces fabricated through 3D printing.
When he had the parts he needed, Sam assembled the reef using marine-grade epoxy. “I designed the reef in a specific way so it could be assembled and dissembled for transport,” says Sam.
When the reef was completed, Sam loaded its parts into five duffel bags. He and his mother, Andrea Suchin, traveled in 2018 to Belize where marine biologists at Hol Chan Marine Reserve installed the reef in the Mexico Rocks reef complex.
“It was overwhelming to have had an idea that then became an object. I was really thankful for every single person who took the time to manufacture a piece,” says Sam. “It was so cool to make connections and to have a community excited about what I was doing.”
It stands to reason that Sam would try to patent his 3D designs, but he prefers to make them available to anyone who wants to use them. “I want people to download these off the web so they can help others. I don’t want to profit from them,” he says.
Sam’s engineering teacher at Pikesville High, William Knipscher, calls him “a unique kid. He tells you these things and it’s hard to believe. It’s rare to find such an altruistic student, and he’s all self-taught.”
Knipscher says Sam is also a well-rounded teenager. “He’s popular, plays tennis and golf, lacrosse. He can hang with anybody, all kinds of kids,” Knipscher says. “He’s like the ‘Doogie Howser, M.D.’ of tech. I would trust him in any situation. He’s one of those people I’m going to look back on and think, ‘I’m glad to have known him.’”
Looking ahead, Sam plans to major in computer science in college. His dream project? Manufacturing tools and other necessary objects for life on Mars.
For information, visit Hope3D.org.
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