The man who made N95 masks so effective had been retired for over two years when the pandemic struck. But the inventor didn’t think twice about returning to work when healthcare workers needed him most.
Peter Tsai, the inventor of the N95 filtration material, is photographed at his Knoxville home on Wednesday, June 3, 2020.
Peter Tsai, a Taiwanese American scientist who invented the synthetic fabric used to make N95 respirators, which is considered the most effective barriers to prevent the spread of coronavirus, resumed work on sterilizing the masks in March as the coronavirus took hold in the US.
Tsai patented the technology used to make the masks in 1995.
Here’s how it works: To block up to 95% of the particles that come in contact with the mask, Tsai made the filters using the corona electrostatic charging method. Put simply, the mask’s filter contains both positive and negative charges. It can attract neutral particles, like bacteria from viruses, and polarize those particles, trapping them before they can pass through the mask.
He tried a variety of methods: He left the masks out in the sun, put them in the oven, washed them with soap and steamed them, he said.
The best method, he found, was keeping the masks in 160-degree dry heat for 30 minutes, which can be feasibly done by hanging them in an oven.
But that’s not his preferred method. He recommends buying seven N95 masks and rotating them, using a new one each day. After using one mask, he hangs it in an isolated spot and doesn’t use it again for seven days, so any bacteria it catches become inactive.
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