Face masks are being used around the world to try and keep the coronavirus out of our nostrils and mouths, as this is its main way of entering our system.
Now, MIT engineers want to take another step up in the fight against COVID-19, and not just keeping the virus out but getting rid of it altogether. So the team has come up with a plan to create a face mask that uses heat to keep the virus away, and most importantly, that eradicates it.
That's right, a face mask that kills the virus.
Killer face mask
The plan is for the MIT researchers to build a face mask that has a heated copper mesh. The mesh would help to slow down any viral particles from entering into the user's system, as well as heat up enough to eradicate the virus.
"The masks that we wear now are designed to capture some of the virus. They do offer protection, but there's no one really thinking about inactivating the virus and sterilizing the air. That surprised me," said Michael Strano, Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT, and lead author of the study.
The mask is expected to be mostly worn by healthcare professionals, who are in close contact with the virus for long periods of time.
"This is a completely new mask concept in that it doesn’t primarily block the virus. It actually lets the virus go through the mask, but slows and inactivates it," said Strano.
Prototypes of the face mask are being built by the researchers, and testing will begin shortly afterward. It has to be noted that this research has yet to be peer-reviewed as it has so far been published in the pre-print online journal, bioRxiv.
How does the mask work?
The researchers calculated how quickly coronaviruses degraded at different temperatures and trapping conditions. They discovered that 194 degrees Fahrenheit (90 degrees Celcius) could reduce the viral particles between a thousandfold and a millionfold, depending on the mask's size.
The mesh is heated up through an electrical current across a 0.1 mm-thick copper mesh, which is powered by a battery. The current prototypes include a 9-volt battery, which works on the mask for a few hours and also cools the air the user is inhaling.
The safety and comfort of wearers were paramount in the team's research, so its members ensured temperatures were cool enough, and the prototype wasn't too heavy for a user to comfortably wear it.
Aside from heat, the team created the prototype using the copper mesh as a reverse-flow reactor. While the person breathes in and out, the airflow continuously reverses, which sees the virus pass back and forth through the mesh, ultimately deactivating it.
Purified air is then 'provided' for the wearer through vents on both sides of the mask.
"This design means you can wear a small mask, something that will fit on your face, but the virus can spend much more time getting deactivated than it would without the reverse flow reactor design," Strano explained.