Swiss researchers develop transparent mask

Date:17 June 2020 Author: Leila Stein

EPFL in Switzerland have developed a fully transparent face mask which protects against virus spread but doesn’t hide a person’s face.

For the past two years, scientists at the EPFL’s EssentialTech Center and Empa (the Swiss federal materials-science center) have been working on a transparent surgical mask.

In addition to making facial expressions and discussion difficult, the goal of these masks is to help parts of the population who are specifically affected such as children or the hearing impaired.

In a statement, the researchers say that they have now finalised a biomass-based material to make the masks out of and are going to begin marketing them.

They are calling the masks HelloMasks and although they will be available for the general public, they are intended for healthcare workers and carers.

Klaus Schönenberger, the head of EPFL’s EssentialTech Center – whose mission is to help transfer modern technology to developing countries – was working in western Africa during the 2015 Ebola outbreak. “It was touching to see that nurses – covered from head to toe in protective gear – pinned photos of themselves on their chests so that patients could see their faces,” he said.

Following this experience, Schönenberger was approached by Thierry Pelet to create a transparent, less alienating mask.

“Looking online you can find prototypes of masks that are partly transparent, but they’re just normal masks with some of the fabric replaced by clear plastic,” says Pelet.

Since that plastic isn’t porous, however, it makes it hard for the wearer to breathe and fogs up easily. The EPFL and Empa researchers spent two years finding the right combination of transparency, resistance, and porosity. They eventually came up with a membrane made from a polymer developed specifically for this application. The polymer fibers are just 100 nm apart, which is the same spacing used in conventional masks – small enough to filter out viruses and bacteria but large enough to let air through.

“Our material is made at 99% from a biomass derivative, and we’ll keep working on them until they’re completely eco-friendly,” said Pelet.

These masks are likely to be on the market in 2021.

Image: Screenshot from Youtube video

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