Retired inventor of N95 mask may be hero of coronavirus outbreak

US-Taiwanese university professor who helped inventing the N95 mask, was called in to find a quick and effective way to sterilize his invention, used by doctors and nurses fighting the coronavirus.

A mask is produced on Israel's first production line for N95 masks (photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)
A mask is produced on Israel's first production line for N95 masks
(photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)
Peter Tsai, who moved to the US in 1981 to study at Kansas State University, simply came to do his PhD in material science and never imagined that years later, his invention - the N95 mask - would be used by medical personnel worldwide fighting the coronavirus, according to US State Department media.
During his studies, he completed a little over 500 academic credits, which are roughly the equivalent of six PhDs: an extraordinary accomplishment, no doubt.
Later, following the footsteps of his professor, he moved from Kansas State University to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where he started teaching. 
In Tennessee, Tsai's research focused on developing a material that could filter air by attracting particles which pass electrostatically-charged fibers. 
Ultimately, his research led to the development of a material that could trap various particles, including bacteria, that passed through the mask. 
Tsai explains: “The original intent was to use these charged fibers for air filters, such as home filters."
Eventually, his discovery helped create the N95 mask which was originally planned to be used by construction workers in a dusty environment.
In 1996, the CDC (Center of Disease Control) realized that the mask could be used to stop viruses and bacteria.
This led to cooperation with the industrial giant 3M, which combined its medical-mask design with the air filter used in the N95 mask. The rest is history, as medical personnel have been using the new mask design ever since.
With the sudden outbreak of the coronavirus, the US-Taiwanese professor was called back in to work. This time, it was to help develop an effective method to sterilize the N95 - the only thing standing between the medical staff and the virus.
Given the special design of the mask, conventional sterilization methods, including boiling in water, soaking in alcohol, or baking at extreme heat can harm its effectiveness.
But the professor managed to discover that baking the mask at a steady heat of 71 degrees Celsius (160 Fahrenheit) eliminates the virus.
For those of us who are not lucky enough to own an N95, Tsai recommends using cotton masks to cover the face.


Tags 3M Face mask