Northwestern scientists have received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to develop a novel self-sanitizing face mask that deactivates viruses on contact.
Dispensed by the NSF, the rapid response research (RAPID) grant is being bestowed on immediate proposals that have the potential to address the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
The Northwestern project spearheaded by professor Jiaxing Huang is the first physical sciences and engineering proposal to receive support under the NSF RAPID call.
“Spread of infectious respiratory diseases, such as COVID-19, typically starts when an infected person releases virus-laden respiratory droplets through coughing or sneezing,” says Huang.
“To further slow and even prevent the virus from spreading, we need to greatly reduce the number and activity of the viruses in those just released respiratory droplets.”
Huang and his team will first investigate anti-viral chemicals that can be safely built into masks to self-sanitize the passing respiratory droplets.
According to the scientists, this should help reduce the number and activity of viruses.
For the past week, members of Huang’s laboratory, including graduate student Haiyue Huang and postdoctoral fellow Hun Park, have been working nonstop from morning to late evening to develop new solutions.
According to the university, the lab members have been designated as ‘essential researchers’ on account of the State of Illinois’ ‘stay-at-home’ order.
Masks currently worn by individuals world-wide provide a physical barrier and that’s about it.
They reduce the number of escaped respiratory droplets that would become a new source of infection after entering the atmosphere or landing on objects and surfaces.
Huang’s aim is to design a drop-in solution that works generically with current, various types of masks to provide an additional function of deactivating viruses.
The mask could moreover reduce the level of viruses in the droplets exhaled by infected wearers and better protect the healthcare workers or others around them.
“More researchers – and especially students in the physical sciences and engineering – can proactively study the problems and think of new ways to mitigate the transmission and spread of viruses,” says Huang.
“Even those who need to stay home for now can still continue to brainstorm.”
Image and content: Northwestern University