Better Face Masks Are Possible: Here Are Some Winning Designs

Thu, 09 Jun 2022 03:45:00 GMT
Scientific American - Technology

A two-part competition aims to spark innovation and connect the groups trying to redesign...

High-quality masks called respirators, such as N95s and KN95s, offer strong protection against the spread of COVID-19.

This week a project called the Mask Innovation Challenge announced the 10 finalists in a high-prize competition that aims to support innovators working on the masks of the future and to connect these groups with one another.

"Together, we really wanted to create something that was comfortable-that you could wear for a long time and ideally not realize-and that also provided superior and exceptional protection that's based on evidence so that people would understand what they're wearing and why they're wearing it and would want to wear it."

The Mask Innovation Challenge is run by Lippold and her colleagues at the Division of Research, Innovation, and Ventures, part of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Jeans maker Levi Strauss developed a low-cost respirator design that the company says any garment producer can manufacture, while start-up Air Flo Labs uses three-dimensional facial scans to ensure its Flo Mask Pro is tailored to a wearer's face.

The five new finalists include three transparent or semi-transparent designs: ClearMask, CrystalGuard and Matregenix Mask.

The fifth new finalist is the Smart, Individualized, Near-Face, Extended Wear Mask, which does not even touch the face at all.

"By providing the opportunity for testing and evaluation, we help support the generation of evidence based on these masks and how they work," Lippold adds.

"The Mask Innovation Challenge is good for spurring new designs and innovations and getting new people involved in thinking about how to make good N95s," says Linsey Marr, an aerosol expert at Virginia Tech, who was not involved in the competition.

"We want to make it as easy for people to wear good-quality masks as possible because they are one of the easiest, fastest and cheapest tools we can use to protect against COVID-19 and other diseases. And they are not specific to any particular variant-they work for everything."

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