Trans demonstrates one of the 350 facial shields he has made with a 3D printer at home.

by Len Lear

Trans (“R.J.”) Lualhati, is a young (26) scientist with a lot more on his mind than success in the business world, although he has already achieved that. R.J. is a current University Innovation Fellow who graduated from Central High School and then from La Salle University with a BS in Integrated Science, Business and Technology (ISBT) with a concentration in biomedical engineering.

He is currently a 3D clinical engineer for Johnson & Johnson and is the lead engineer for the company’s trauma division focusing on orthopedic and spinal medicine. He evaluates and develops brand new implants and instruments with the use of metal 3D printers, but his ultimate professional goal is even more ambitious. He said it is “to transfer into Johnson & Johnson’s biomedicine/bioprinting division to achieve my goal of printing organs and tissue for a better and sustainable life.”

And R.J. does not just talk the talk. He walks the walk. After his sister, Jhoanna, an oncology nurse at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) and also a La Salle graduate, told him about a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) at her hospital needed to prevent infection, R.J. used four 3D printers he borrowed from La Salle University in order to produce face shields (350 so far) on his own time that he is donating to a retirement home as well as HUP, Temple University Hospital and Abington Hospital–Jefferson Health.

R.J. also received indispensable help from his former mentor at La Salle, William L. Weaver, Ph.D, associate professor and interim chair of La Salle’s ISBT department, who gave R.J. permission to borrow La Salle’s four 3D printers, which Lualhati had used as an undergraduate, along with filament to use with the printers. Since on-site classes have all been canceled because of the pandemic, the four 3D printers were not being used, as they normally would be.

The young engineer financed the materials needed to produce the facial shields and personally managed the operation and calibration of the printers in his Brewerytown apartment (he grew up in Lawncrest), all while completing his professional work for Johnson & Johnson. He has spent 40 hours making the shields as of this writing.

“This is my specialty,” R.J. told a La Salle publication. “If you give me one assignment, I will find other work to do in parallel. It’s how my brain works, and it’s how I got through my four years at La Salle. Since I am working from home, I can let the printers run when I am working, and when the parts are complete I can assemble them, reset the printers and have them run again.”

While at La Salle, Lualhati spent a week as an Innovation Scholar at Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner’s Institute of Design. The knowledge he gained there helped him establish La Salle’s Innovation Factory, a facility that encourages students to create and innovate. (R.J. still mentors students at La Salle.)

“I feel empowered,” R.J. told us, “knowing that I have the whole city of Philadelphia and other cities and countries around the world supporting me. But the most rewarding feeling is seeing our healthcare professionals prepped and ready to fight the virus.”

When asked about the ethnic origin of his unusual name, R.J. replied, “My roots are from the Philippines. But funny story of my first name. My parents immigrated from the Philippines to the U.S. in the late 1980s. My father was starting his life as a chemical manufacturing engineer for CRC Chemicals. He bought a 1978 Pontiac Trans Am and later in his ownership had too much fun in his car and unfortunately crashed the car. In 1993, a year before I was born, he renamed himself from Ricardo to ‘Trans’ in memory of his beloved car. When I was born, I became Trans Jr.” (Trans’ mother, Josephine, is a housekeeper for La Salle University.)

For more information, email tlualhati@gmail.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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