MIT’s New Designed Face Mask Can Inactivate Novel Coronavirus

According to the researchers, the new mask incorporates a heated copper mesh and does not need to be decontaminated or thrown away after use

MIT’s Scientists have designed a new novel face mask which can not only filter out the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19 but can also inactivate it by using heat.

According to the researchers, the new mask incorporates a heated copper mesh and does not need to be decontaminated or thrown away after use.

The researchers said, the person wearing the mask can breathe in and out and the air flows repeatedly across the mesh, therefore any viral particles in the air are slowed and are inactivated by the mesh and high temperatures.

These masks could be very useful for healthcare professionals, as well as members of the public in situations where social distancing would be difficult to achieve, such as a crowded bus, they said.

Michael Strano, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US said, “This is a completely new mask concept in that it doesn’t primarily block the virus. It lets the virus undergo through the mask, but slows and inactivates it.” 

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The researchers are hoping to begin the testing soon and have already started to build prototypes for this.

The new designs have been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal and are described in a paper posted on online preprint server ArXiv.

“The masks that we wear now are designed to capture the viruses. They do offer protection, but there’s no one thinking about inactivating the virus and sterilising the air. That surprised me,” Strano said.

The researchers are set out to design a mask that would kill viruses using heat.

They have planned to use copper mesh as the capture and heating element, and have performed some mathematical modeling to establish the optimal temperature range needed to kill coronaviruses that are flowing inwards or outwards from natural breathing.

Samuel Faucher a MIT graduate student and the lead author of the study said, “The vast majority of masks today function by filtration, filtering particles by size or electric charge,”

“This mask relies on a different mechanism and works predominantly by thermal inactivation,” Faucher said.

The researchers calculated how rapidly coronaviruses degrade at different temperatures and trapping conditions and instituted that a temperature of about 90 degrees Celsius could achieve between a thousandfold and millionfold reduction in viral particles, based on the final mask size.

The temperature can be achieved by running an electrical current across a 0.1-millimeter thick copper mesh or thermoelectric heater, powered by a small battery was shown by them.

The current prototypes include a 9-volt battery, which might provide enough power to heat the mask for a few hours and would cool the air before it is inhaled.

“Of course, we need to be mindful of the safety and comfort of mask users. The air will be cooled after viral inactivation to make the mask comfortable and safe to use,” Faucher said.

The researchers were capable to enhance the efficiency of virus deactivation by taking advantage of the breath to create a type of reactor known as a reverse-flow reactor.

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As the person wears the mask and breathes in and out, the airflow continually reverses, which allows the viruses in the mask to pass over the mesh many times and makes it more likely that they will be deactivated. The researchers said, purified air flows out of vents on both sides of the mask.

“This design means you can wear a small mask, something that will fit on your face, but the virus can spend much more time getting deactivated than it would without the reverse flow reactor design,” Strano said.

The copper mesh is surrounded by an insulating material called neoprene that prevents the outside of the mask from becoming too hot to wear.

Strano directed that N95 respirators, surgical masks, and cloth masks are effective and must be used during the pandemic, but one potential advantage of heated masks is because they kill the virus, they don’t need to be decontaminated or thrown away after use. They may offer extra protection by eliminating the virus instead of only filtering it.

“What we show is that it’s possible to wear something on your face that’s not too cumbersome, that can allow you to breathe medically sterile air,” Strano said.

Heated masks would be costlier than cloth masks or surgical masks, but they’ll be useful in situations where exposure risk is high, and the cost is less of a concern, the researchers said.

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