U of M research team designs respirator mask prototypes as possible alternative to N95 masks

With a growing need for N95 masks due to COVID-19 and a shortage of available masks, a team at the University of Minnesota designed two respirator mask prototypes from donated filter material.

The university said the interdisciplinary research team used filter material donated by Cummins and bendable components from Bedford Industries to make one modified anesthesia mask and one single-use, disposable mask.

David Pui and the Center for Filtration Research Consortium tested the masks to ensure they’d block viruses from being transferred and found nearly equal results to N95 masks, meaning the prototypes could be a viable alternative for health care professionals.

The other important aspect is that the masks were made with supplies that aren’t being impacted by supply chain shortages, which has been an issue with filters used in N95 masks.

"Through these international relationships that existed — and the experts that we have in filtration, polymer science, design, engineering and medicine — we were able to quickly build a team to work on new mask designs," said John Bischof, the research team facilitator and the director of the Institute for Engineering in Medicine. "Cummins generously donated many rolls of this filtration material."

The next step for the masks is to conceptualize production, which the U of M said will start with a small group of College of Design students for standardization purposes and adherence to social distancing and quality management. Afterward, the U of M team will look at sterilization and delivery of the masks locally.