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To innovate, sometimes you need to break stuff. That’s why Matthew Schwerin, ’97, stretches, squashes, spins, and soaks new products, testing the limits of what they can withstand. He came to campus on January 25 to talk to STAMP students about his career as a physicist with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“People don’t understand the depth and breadth of the FDA,” said Schwerin, who explained that the federal agency’s 19,000 employees protect public health in countless ways. His specialty is medical devices, and he works out of a 55,000-square foot lab in Silver Spring, Md., where he currently focuses on additive manufacturing, aka 3D printing.

Schwerin has been involved with a range of projects, including several related to the COVID-19 pandemic. He helped investigate whether it’s possible to decontaminate PPE by running tests on gowns, masks, and gloves. He showed a photo of a row of gloves filled up like water balloons. “If water can get through, other contaminants can as well,” he explained. When 3D printer schematics for masks started spreading widely online, his team printed their own versions to see if they actually worked. The result? “Better than nothing,” he said. But the plastic material was rigid, which wasn’t particularly comfortable and led to gaps.

He has three pieces of advice for Gallaudet students looking to launch scientific careers: “Do an internship, do an internship, and do an internship.” Schwerin interned at the FDA for his final two years at Gallaudet, got a 6-month contract when he graduated, and that turned into a full-time position. “I often say no internship is a bad internship,” he added, noting that if it turns out not to be the right fit, that can help you figure out what you should do instead.

For Schwerin, who’s the only deaf employee in his lab, it’s especially important to encourage Gallaudet students to follow in his footsteps. “It’s good to be home. I’ve always wanted to come back and give back,” he said. “I’m trying to plant the seed to get them motivated. When you put your mind to something, you can thrive.” He welcomes interested students to visit him at his lab soon.

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