Meet the UT scientist who helped create the N95 mask

Dr. Peter Tsai says he helped to improve material used in N95 masks.
Published: Jul. 8, 2020 at 7:17 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Dr. Peter Tsai says he moved to Knoxville in 1987 to work at the University of Tennessee as a material scientist and inventor.

Little did he know his work for improving the filtration of N95 would be highly recognized today.

“I improved the material. I did not design the respirator,” said Dr. Tsai. “But this respirator was designed for construction workers, and it was designed to be for one-time use.”

In the 1990s, Tsai says he received a patent for his new microfiber fabric that would prove to be more effective against airborne diseases like Tuberculosis.

“This kind of N95 respirator was recommended by the CDC to wear when they take care of patients with airborne disease,” said Tsai.

Due to the recent shortage of this certain type of mask used for Personal Protective Equipment in hospitals, Tsai says he has been looking into ways to effectively sanitize the N95 masks, without distorting it’s form and ability to block out particles.

“Heat has already been validated by N.I.H (National Institutes of Health) to kill COVID-19. I tried to use an oven at home,” said Tsai.

Due to how long the Coronavirus can live on certain surfaces, Tsai says wearing and rotating multiple masks is a good solution. It gives the virus time to die down if it comes in contact with the N95 respirator.

“The virus can survive for 3 hours on the surface of copper. And one day on cardboard. And 2 days on the surface of stainless steel. And 3 days on plastic materials. This kind of respirator is plastic material. It is fiber material.”

Tsai retired from UT last year and says he’s glad to be helping out clients with his patent during the pandemic.

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