Face masks have been a prominent topic of conversation during the COVID-19 outbreak, as there simply aren't enough to go around. Many companies have been working hard to create their own versions of masks, while others have found FDA-approved methods to decontaminate them safely for re-use.
Now, engineers from Stanford University in the U.S. may have found a way to improve the best version already out there: the N95 mask. Their version extracts and concentrates oxygen from the air and through the mask that significantly improves the wearer's experience.
Mechanical engineers and research scientists to the rescue
Moving away from their work on developing fuel cells for next-generation vehicles, John Xu from Stanford University and mechanical engineer Friedrich "Fritz" Prinz focused on how electrochemical processes could help during the coronavirus outbreak.
In doing so, the team of two has developed a new type of protective face mask that's able to extract and concentrate oxygen from the air, which helps those wearing it to not undergo the adverse effects of oxygen deficiency. Naturally, the mask also helps to contain the spread of the virus.
Xu explained that the way the masks currently work is that they "essentially filter the air coming in and out of the lungs, trapping the virus and other particles in its mesh. Through the COVID-19 crisis, many have become familiar with N95 masks, which filter out 95 percent or more of small particulate matter from the air – including the virus."
However, the side effects of wearing the masks for long hours at a time, which most frontline medical workers are currently having to do, " also makes it harder to breathe. N95 masks are estimated to reduce oxygen intake by anywhere from 5 to 20 percent. That’s significant, even for a healthy person. It can cause dizziness and lightheadedness. If you wear a mask long enough, it can damage the lungs. For a patient in respiratory distress, it can even be life-threatening."
The team focused on enriching the oxygen that would filter through the mask. Their goal was to create a portable device "that uses these electrochemical processes to enrich oxygen from the ambient air."
And they've managed to do so as Xu explained "It is a small box that is worn at the waist with a tube that extends to the face mask." The team is still working to make it a wearable pneumatic device, and to make it better suited for the user's experience.
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