Scientists redesign face mask to improve comfort, protection

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Scientists, including one of Indian-origin, have designed a new reusable face mask that protects wearers and those around them from the novel coronavirus and is comfortable enough to wear all day, an innovation that may help reduce the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The novel mask, developed by scientists, including Sundaresan Jayaraman from the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US, combines a filtration material with a stretchable fabric to hold it in place.

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According to the study, published in The Journal of the Textile Institute, prototypes of the mask made for testing use hook and eye fasteners on the back of the head to keep the masks on, and include a pocket for an optional filter to increase protection.

Jayaraman and his colleague, Sungmee Park, said the fundamental flaw in existing reusable cloth masks is that they leak air around the edges, bypassing their filtration mechanism.

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They said these gaps potentially allows virus particles, both large droplets, and smaller aerosols, to enter the air breathed in by users, and allow particles from infected persons to exit the mask.

The leakage problem also causes eyeglasses to fog up as exhaled breath leaks around the nose, making some people less likely to wear them, the researchers added.

According to the scientists, the fit problem can also be seen in constant adjustments made by wearers, who could potentially contaminate themselves whenever they touch the masks after touching other surfaces.

In order to address these challenges, the researchers created a two-part mask that fastens behind the head like many N95 respirators.

We have taken a science-based approach to design a better mask, and we are very passionate about getting this out so people can use it to help protect themselves and others from harm.- Sundaresan Jayaraman.

The scientists said the front part of the new mask — the barrier component — contains the filtration material and is contoured to fit tightly while allowing space ahead of the nose and mouth to avoid breathing restrictions and permit unrestricted speech.

This part is made from the kind of moisture-wicking material used in athletic clothing, with the addition of a pocket into which a filter can be inserted to increase the filtration efficiency and thereby increase protection, the study noted.

The scientists said the washable fabric filter is made of a blend of Spandex and polyester, adding that after 20 items of washing, the prototypes have not shrunk or lost their shape.

We want people to be able to get the mask in the right place every time.- Sundaresan Jayaraman.

“If you don’t position it correctly and easily, you are going to have to keep fiddling with it. We see that all the time on television with people adjusting their masks and letting them drop below their noses,” he added.

While many existing mask designs attempt to increase filtration effectiveness by boosting the number of layers, Park said that may not be as helpful as it might seem.

“We tested 16 layers of handkerchief material, and as we increased the layers, we measured increased breathing resistance. While the breathing resistance went up, the filtration did not improve as much as we would have expected,” she said.

According to Jayaraman the combination of fit, filtration efficiency, and staying in the right place makes for a good mask.

“If we want to reopen the economy and ask people to go back to work, we need a mask that is both comfortable and effective,” he added.

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