Researchers are engineering better masks with improved design and safety

By November 2, 2020 No Comments

Scientists at Argonne National Laboratory want to make better masks. They’ve been working on ideas since the early days of the pandemic. And now they’re ready to roll them out. Research is being conducted on the 1700-acre campus in a Chicago suburb.

Jeff Elam PhD. and his colleague Anil Mane PhD. work with chemical coatings and materials.

“The masks you and I are wearing now are intended to prevent droplets from coming out of our mouth and infecting other people,” Elam said. “It will catch those droplets. But they will still remain infective. If you can kill the microbes, you could make them even more effective to reduce the spread of the virus.”

“Once you take out the mask material there are different layers,” Mane said.

N95s contain an electrostatic layer of material that catches tiny viral particles. It’s what makes them so effective.

But the Argonne team believed a chemical coating would make the workhorse even more powerful by killing the viral particles caught in the fibers.

They experimented on small pieces of N95 material and ran samples through a tube where vapor pulses applied a specially formulated antimicrobial coating.

“What we want to do is put a coating, not just on the surface of that fabric, but inside of every one of the little fibers that are used to make that mask so it will be effective at killing the virus,” Elam said.

Once they found the right formula, they tested their “catch and kill” material layer against bacteria and viruses, including a SARS-CoV2 surrogate.

“We tested this mask with antivirus antibacterial samples, and it’s worked greatly,” Mane said.

“The coatings are general. Although we developed them for N95 masks, we think we could just as easily put them on gloves, protective eyewear and even on filters for buildings,” Elam said.

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