Sharon donates thousands of masks made at ENG

Andre Sharon (right), director of the Fraunhofer USA Center for Manufacturing Innovation at BU chats with Matt Ferrer, volunteer coordinator at The Pine Street Inn, after handing over a box of 1,000 masks on March 19. Photo by Cydney Scott for Boston University Photography


When last spring sprung a sudden need for face masks worldwide, suppliers were caught flat-footed. Professor Andre Sharon (MSE, ME) asked himself, “Who’s in the best position to solve this shortage? Engineers!”

Director of the Fraunhofer USA Center for Manufacturing Engineering, Sharon got to work building a machine that could produce 2,000 masks an hour. If replicated and made widely available in hospitals and other institutions, the compact machine could reduce the need for shipping masks from overseas plants.

For now, Sharon is donating thousands of masks to homeless shelters and other organizations in the Boston area. “There’s a whole lot of people who cannot afford to buy masks, and you see a lot of them on the streets, wearing just a scarf over their mouth, or a bandana or a turtleneck pulled up,” says Sharon. “It occurred to me that these were the people who really needed the masks.”

Sharon has personally boxed up and delivered 4,000 masks to homeless shelters Rosie’s Place, St. Francis House and the Pine Street Inn.

“I never did get involved in volunteering at food pantries or anything like that previously,” says Sharon, “but now that I’m donating the masks, I get a real satisfaction out of it. Homeless shelters and organizations that serve low-income people have been extremely grateful. At this point, they’re the ones that benefit the most from these masks, because the people they serve really need them.”

“Donations such as the masks from BU Engineering have allowed us to keep guests and staff safe through the COVID pandemic,” says Matt Ferrer, volunteer coordinator at the Pine Street Inn. “And they help to defray costs the organization would otherwise incur, as masks are an essential item in our fight against COVID. We appreciate the ongoing support of the BU community.”

In addition, Sharon has donated thousands of masks to first responders and essential workers at BU Facilities, BU School of Medicine, the Boston Police Department, and the Holtzman Medical Group vaccination site in Newton.

That’s how the Societal Engineer rises to meet a challenge, Sharon says. “Whenever there’s any real problem in the world, whether it’s a pandemic or a lack of clean water after a hurricane, in the end it’s engineers and scientists who need to step up and come up with solutions.”