Twitter | @davecyen

N95 Innovator Comes Out Of Retirement To Help Find A Safe Way To Reuse Masks

Due to how quickly the spread of COVID-19 escalated into a pandemic, many of us found ourselves becoming familiar with terms and concepts that we never would have thought to use before quarantining efforts began in earnest.

One of the most prevalent, of course, is the idea of social distancing in which we keep ourselves at least six feet apart from each other in the interest of eliminating the possibility of their potentially infectious facial droplets coming into contact with us.

But these times have also given us an appreciation for N95 face masks, which are considered the best possible option for helping health care workers avoid infection. However, they likely wouldn't be as effective as they are without the contributions of one scientist in Tennessee who has returned to help in this global time of need.

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Although we may understand how valuable N95 masks are, it's worth knowing where exactly that name comes from.

Reddit | BaylisAscaris

According to the CDC, the "N" refers to the fact that it's not resistant to oil and the "95" refers to the percentage of airborne particles that these masks filter out.

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However, they wouldn't be so effective at doing that were it not for a material scientist and engineer named Peter Tsai.

Twitter | @davecyen

As NPR reported, he invented the filtration technology that keeps viruses out almost 30 years ago.

In the time since, he was teaching at the University of Tennessee until his retirement last year.

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However, he's recently seen an important reason to come out of retirement after these N95 masks have been found to be in short supply among health care workers.

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Namely, that this shortage has forced medical staff to reuse them and resort to try sterilizing them with bleach and alcohol.

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Unfortunately, such practices chip away at the integrity of the masks, which makes what are supposed to be single-use masks less effective.

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And so, as Tsai told NPR, his inbox has been flooded with questions from researchers about the technology he developed.

And now, as he said, "I just want to help people, and just do my job."

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And so, he is now engaged in studying potential safe methods of reusing N95 masks in the absence of new supplies.

YouTube | WION

This is also the goal of N95DECON, a collective of volunteer researchers experimenting with different methods for N95 decontamination, as their name would suggest.

So far, they've tried heat, ultraviolet light and hydrogen peroxide vapor, but are seeking Tsai's expertise on further possible methods.

As Tsai said, "The front-line hospital workers — they are heroes. I'm just trying to help them to wear the mask."

h/t: NPR

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