Transparent, Breathable Face Masks are Well Under Way

Gone will be the days of muffled voices and unintelligible expressions.
Fabienne Lang
See-through maskEPFL

As face masks become the day to day norm around the world, it's become harder and harder to understand people's muffled words, as well as reading expressions. Did that person smile or grimace at me from behind their mask? Hard to tell these days. 

Now, a team of researchers from EPFL and Empa in Switzerland has come up with a way of solving these issues: a breathable, transparent surgical mask. 

You'll soon be able to see someone's full face from behind a surgical mask. 


From shortages to muffles

From shortages of masks at the start of the year to now feeling frustrated at not being able to fully express yourself from behind them, the search for the perfect mask continues. 

Even thin masks can be uncomfortable to wear, especially after many hours, but the biggest challenge lately has been finding a way to make them less impersonal. For instance, caregivers trying to comfort patients or to show compassion through their masks have been struggling to do so in the past few months (and previously in general).

Transparent, Breathable Face Masks are Well Under Way
The see-through mask, Source: EPFL

Moreover, masks limit the amount of clear communication that requires full facial expressions or clear speech from happening, which can be tricky when working with people with hearing impairments.

Researchers from the École Polytechnique fédéral de Lausanne and the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Material Sciences and Technology have been working on creating a transparent, breathable, and safe mask over the past two years. 

Transparent, Breathable Face Masks are Well Under Way
The ultra-thin yet still protective material, Source: EPFL

They've dubbed their creation the HelloMasks, which are made of organic biomass-based materials. Not only are they breathable, but they're also recyclable and biodegradable. The team used a process called electrospinning that uses an electric charge to create ultra-thin threads, which allow particles to pass through but still manage to block out viruses and bacteria. 

The team is currently working on finding an appropriate manufacturing process to produce the new masks en masse, and are optimistic that they'll be available by early 2021. The first people to receive them will be medical and health care workers.

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