Monday, January 4, 2021

Stronger More Powerful Masks

Environmental and Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Technology
Ed Hessler

Face masks are one of the most (the most?) essential elements in the COVID-19 pandemic. Can they be made even more powerful?  Effective?
According to reporting by Justin Harris they can. Abdennour Abbas, Department of Biopoducts and Biosystems Enginneering at the University of Minnesota, he and his team at a textile startup company, Claros Technologies, "are working to create facemasks that are engineered to kill viruses like COVID-19 as soon as they make contact with the material, preventing them from entering a person’s respiratory system. 'We just made a mask that can kill 99.9 percent of viruses within 10 minutes of contact,' Abbas says. 'And we think we can do even better than that'"

The "process (is) called textile functionalization, or the practice of imbuing fabrics and fibers with special properties, including the ability to kill viruses and bacteria.'" That is a superpower, one that we mere mortals would love to have.

Many of us own an item of clothing or two with anti-microbial properties, e.g., socks. I've always wondered what happens when they are washed. Well, the properties are washed down the drain the very first time.

The Abbas team has developed a"much more durable product with superpowers built to last" (both the inner layer, on the face side and the outer layer, on the public side are coated. And the virus-killing capabilities have been confirmed independently." Abbas told Harris that "these fabrics" can be washed "over 100 times and they still work the same.”  According to a Claros explainer (see above for link) "no particles are found in the water and the antimicrobial effectiveness is maintained." The particles are grown on the fabric rather than added to it.

Abbas has also done work for meat packing plants "to apply antiviral textile coating to the hard surfaces... including countertops and plastic dividers that separate workers."

The full story--a short one--is found in the December 2020 issue of Inquiry as a Legacy feature (Fall 2020).  The Claros Technologies link above includes a film and a description of the science behind the mask.

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