June 7, 2023

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Researchers develop improved N95 masks that actively kill viruses

Researchers develop improved N95 masks that actively kill viruses

Researchers develop improved N95 masks that actively kill viruses.

Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have created a practical method to produce N95 masks that are both excellent germ barriers and contact germ killers.

This anti-viral and anti-bacterial mask can be worn for a longer period of time, which will reduce plastic waste as it does not need to be replaced as often.

To combat infectious respiratory diseases and environmental pollution, Helen Zha, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering and member of the Rensselaer Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS), and associate professor of materials science and engineering, Rensselaer Center for Materials, Devices and Integrated Systems (cMDIS) member Edmund Palermo collaborated.

“It’s a multi-faceted materials engineering challenge with a great, diverse team of collaborators,” Palermo said. “We see this work as a first step towards more durable, self- sterilizing personal protective equipment, such as improved N95 masks. It may help reduce the general spread of airborne pathogens.”

According to a recent study published in Applied ACS Materials and Interfaces, the researchers successfully grafted a broad-spectrum antimicrobial polymer onto polypropylene filters used in N95 face masks. N95 respirator masks are designed to provide a very tight fit on the face and provide high-efficiency filtration of airborne particles.

Researchers develop improved N95 masks that actively kill viruses

“The active filter layer in N95 masks is very sensitive to chemical modification,” Zha said. “It can make their filtration performance worse, so they basically don’t perform like N95 masks anymore. On the one hand they are made of polypropylene, which is difficult to chemically modify. Another challenge is that we don’t want to destroy these A very fine network of fibers in the mask.”

Zha and Palermo, along with other researchers from Rensselaer, Michigan Institute of Technology, and MIT, Covalently Attach Antimicrobial Quaternary Ammonium Polymers to Nonwoven Polypropylene Fabrics Using Ultraviolet (UV)-Initiated Grafting fiber surface.

The fabrics were donated by the Hills Company and provided by Rensselaer University alumnus Tim Robson.

“The process we developed uses a very simple chemical method to create this non-asphalt polymer coating, which kills viruses and bacteria by basically breaking their outer layers,” Zha said. It’s very straightforward , also a potentially scalable approach”.

Researchers develop improved N95 masks that actively kill viruses

The team used only UV light and acetone in their process, materials that are readily available and easy to implement.

Additionally, the process can be applied to polypropylene mask recyclates that have already been produced, rather than having to restart the manufacturing process. .

When the process was applied directly to the filtration layer of N95 masks, the team saw a drop in filtration efficiency, but the solution was simple.

Users can wear an unmodified N95 mask with an additional layer of polypropylene on top with an antibacterial polymer overlay.

And in the future, mask makers could create a mask that incorporates an antibacterial polymer into the top layer.

Thanks to a Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grant from the National Science Foundation, Zha and Palermo began their research in 2020, when N95 masks were in short supply.

Researchers develop improved N95 masks that actively kill viruses

Healthcare workers are even reusing masks that are supposed to be single-use. Fast forward to 2022, and masks of all types are now widely available.

However, the incidence of COVID remains high, the threat of another pandemic in the future is a clear possibility, and single-use masks are piling up in landfills that are hard to degrade.

“This technology will become increasingly important,” Zha said. “The threat of disease caused by airborne microorganisms is not going away. The time has come for us to improve the performance and sustainability of the materials we use to protect ourselves.”

“Attaching chemical groups to polypropylene that can kill viruses or bacteria is a clever strategy,” said Shekhar Garde, dean of the Rensselaer School of Engineering. useful in other situations”.

This research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health/National Institutes of Health.

Researchers develop improved N95 masks that actively kill viruses

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