Making a Difference One Mask at a Time

  • Theo McGuckin wears a homemade cloth face covering
  • Closeup of mask

This article is the first in a series of articles about members of the Jefferson Lab community who are using their personal time and expertise to help the local community in the face of the pandemic.

Making medical masks to protect people in a pandemic

A desire to make the most of downtime, courtesy of the Virginia governor’s stay-at-home order, has led one couple to make a small difference in their community. Jefferson Lab community members Theo and Michelle McGuckin are taking the initiative to make cloth face masks for friends and family for use in the pandemic.

Theo McGuckin is a systems administrator in the Accelerator Operations group in the Accelerator Division at the U.S. Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility. He says the small craft project started when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that anyone venturing out into public should wear a cloth face covering to prevent transmission of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Michelle, a massage therapist whose workplace is closed until June as part of a state-wide directive, decided that the recommendation was the perfect opportunity to take up sewing again and shape up their shared office/sewing room in the process.

“Michelle learned to sew a few years ago for fun. My mom is actually a huge sewer and taught me when I was young, so we helped her get started,” McGuckin said.

Each mask is machine washable and features a filter made from air conditioner filters of 1900 rating or higher that are trimmed down and inserted into a pocket sewn into the mask.

“There was a steep learning curve, because she's making a style of mask that wraps under the chin, over the nose and around the face, as opposed to the simpler square mask with accordion folds on the sides,” McGuckin says.

He says that the masks take up to two hours to make, and Michelle has made about 20 masks so far. Most of them are being distributed to family and friends. In addition, the McGuckins are looking to donate their homemade mask creations to community organizations in need.

“Not sure how many we’re planning on making at this point. Probably as many as we can get through while we're at home,” he says.

If you are or know someone in the Jefferson Lab community who is making a difference, submit a description of the work to Rebecca Duckett,


Other articles in this series:

Thinking Inside the Box Can Save Lives

Helping Others Through Thoughtful Donations


Contact: Lauren Hansen, Jefferson Lab Communications Office, 757-269-7689,


Jefferson Science Associates, LLC, manages and operates the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, or Jefferson Lab, for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science. JSA is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Southeastern Universities Research Association, Inc. (SURA).

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit