University of Minnesota design new mask alternative to N95

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A team of experts at the University of Minnesota has designed a new mask that may serve as a viable alternative for health care workers if N95 masks aren’t available.

They call their prototype an "origami mask" because it involves folding and heat-setting, without the need for sewing seams.

The masks are made from filters typically used in diesel engines, donated by Cummins Filtration. Because these filters are not normally used in medical equipment, they would likely not encounter the same supply chain shortages as other personal protective equipment (PPE) material.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota ran the filters through a series of rigorous tests and found they were effective at blocking about 95% of particles in the air, even as small as viruses.

"We found the filtration material will function almost as well as an N95," explained John Bischof, director of the University’s Institute for Engineering in Medicine, who helped facilitate the team creating these new masks. "And it’s not just the filtration material but how it’s on your face that we’ve really spent a lot of time trying to get right. "

Experts across multiple disciplines at the University of Minnesota, including the College of Medicine, College of Design and College of Science and Engineering, came together to create a prototype of the mask.

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"It’s been this sort of data-driven, carefully constructed design," Bischof said. "It’s a testimony to the University of Minnesota being a tier-one research institution with such depth of expertise and really a passion not only to just be excellent in what you do but to rise to this particular challenge."

Linsey Griffin, a professor in the College of Design, tested about 80 different versions of the mask design before finding one she believes will properly fit most faces, a key factor in keeping viruses out.

The final design includes bendable wires for the bridge of the nose, donated by Minnesota-based Bedford Industries, a company known for making products such as twist ties.

"Nobody’s claiming that it’s an N95, but in the case of an emergency, I think people can feel pretty good about putting this on versus something like a bandana and definitely having some protection," Bischof said. "We have the data to show that this mask can help you."

He said the team plans to start producing hundreds of masks per day to have an emergency stockpile in place by the end of the month.