Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute Of Technology (MIT) are taking face masks to the next level with a new heated reusable version designed to inactivate coronavirus particles.
Simple medical face masks have been proven to effectively filter out viruses like COVID-19, and the majority of countries now recommend wearing a mask while in public to help reduce the risk of infection.
But now a team of researchers at MIT have designed a mask that will not only filter out particles, but actually kill the virus before it can disperse.
The reusable masks are fitted with a heatable copper mesh, and as the wearer breathes, air flows across the mesh and any viral particles in the air are inactivated by the high temperatures. Purified air is then filtered out through vents on either side of the mask.
Researchers have suggested the mask could be used by healthcare workers who come into more frequent contact with the virus, and could also be suitable for places like public transport, where social distancing is harder to maintain.
The idea, which is being developed by MIT staff and graduate students, has been submitted for peer review and is currently being prototyped with an eye to beginning testing in the near future.
Michael Strano, a professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT, told SciTechDaily:
This is a completely new mask concept in that it doesn’t primarily block the virus. It actually lets the virus go through the mask, but slows and inactivates it.
The team started work on the mask as far back as March, when they realised that no masks existed that tried to kill the virus using heat. The researchers calculated that a temperature of about 90 degrees would degrade virus particles by a factor of between a thousand and a million, depending on the mask size.
The mask works by running an electrical current across a 0.1-millimeter thick copper mesh powered by a small battery. The design modelled by MIT uses neoprene casing for insulation, ensuring the mask doesn’t get too hot for the wearer, and has enough power to last for a few hours.
Strano believes the idea could be a good alternative to the current recommended versions like N95 respirators and surgical masks, as it won’t need to be decontaminated or thrown away after use.
What we show is that it’s possible to wear something on your face that’s not too cumbersome, that can actually allow you to breathe medically sterile air,
The prospect of being able to breathe in medically sterile air and breathe out medically sterile air, protecting the people around you and protecting yourself, is just the next step. It’s better technology.
It’s definitely not the sleekest-looking mask we’ve seen, and it looks like it will be pretty expensive too, but it could be invaluable for people on the frontlines as the fight against the pandemic continues.
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