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Duke University Student Athletes Are 3D Printing Injury Recoveries

What used to be a gargantuan cigarette factory near “Tobacco Road”, the well-known stretch of road that separates Duke University from its rival school, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is now Duke University’s newest, and brightest, research hub in all of downtown Durham, NC. Known as The Chesterfield, this historic building was erected in 1948 and had Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company as its first tenants. Finally left vacant in 1999, it wasn’t until 2017 that The Chesterfield was renovated by Wexford Science + Technology, a restoration company, which works exclusively with academics/research schools.

Today, Duke University leases about 100,000 square feet of The Chesterfield’s renovated 286,000 total square feet of space. People like working in the place. “The building is bright and cheerful,” said Wendy Parris, a lab research analyst in the Sequencing and Genomic Technologies Shared Resource lab.

Labs on the third and fourth floors provide home to research which focus on numerous biological subjects, from capturing and recycling water from areas with poor sanitation to 3-D printing biomaterials that can help the body heal itself. There are also two lab spaces equipped with 3-D printers for Biomedical Engineering students to work on projects.

Interestingly enough, the 3-D scanners and printers provided by the Chesterfield Building were the very devices used to make the customized 3D-printed collarbone brace that helped an injured Duke football player to heal, back in the fall of 2018.

Today the reason this account is so noteworthy is because that injured Duke football player who broke his clavicle on Sept. 8, 2018 in a game versus Northwestern is Daniel Jones. Daniel Jones is today’s starting quarterback for the N.Y. Giants!

Between individual smarts and resources from Duke University, two undergraduate engineers on the Duke Varsity football team, Devin Gehsmann and Clark Bulleit, decided to make a 3D-printed brace to help their injured teammate. Once that endeavor was determined to be successful, the three formed a startup company, Protect3d, which uses 3D scanners and printers to produce anatomically precise protective devices.

Then in January 2020, three football-playing engineers won NFL’s 1st and Future Innovations challenge—beating out other teams for the grand prize of $50,000 and two tickets to the Super Bowl!

Now part of an exclusive entrepreneurs’ program on Duke’s campus, the Protect3d team, which also includes fellow engineer and football teammate, Tim Skapek, plans to take their money and get to work on the next phase of their business’s growth. “We hope this event springs our business forward, so we are able to support NFL and college football teams across the country this coming season,” Gehsmann said back in 2018. “Most of the money will be used to expand our manufacturing facility in Durham to prepare to scale up to meet that challenge.”

From dilapidated tobacco company warehouse to modern-day 3-D printing hub, The Chesterfield has seen it all. In 70 short years, The Chesterfield has gone from handing out lung cancer to NFL contracts.

Sure, modernity is attributable for this turnaround, but so is the drive, vision, and intelligence of those three teammates.

(But let’s get back to 3-D printing. How cool are these machines??)