Atmospheric Integrated Research at University of California, Irvine

Smith, Kleinman study medical mask materials

Wed, 04/15/2020

AirUCI faculty Jim Smith is an aerosol expert who studies how things like dust and water droplets behave in the air, and now he has taken on medical masks and their construction in this time of the coronavirus. With masks in such short supply that people are sewing their own, and with do-it-yourself mask-making videos emerging online, Jim has assembled a team of UCI researchers studying the best way to make these masks. They’ve already discovered that “things like bandanas – a common item people might use as a mask – are only effective at stopping the kinds of large droplets emitted when someone sneezes,” Jim says.  “Every day, I open up the news and I see another story about masks, about homemade masks, and about filtration in general, and I see a lot of misinformation about it,” he says.
They are utilizing the head of a medical "breathing" mannequin delivered by co-investigator Mike Kleinman, also an AirUCI faculty, to test everyday household fabrics such as furnace filters, bedsheets, pillowcases, and bandanas after fitting a breathing tube into the mannequin’s throat. The team then injects particles into the tube and measures the efficiency with which each material filters them. So far, they’ve tested more than 50 kinds of fabric.
Jim says, “Our best luck has actually been using a furnace filter made of nonwoven polypropylene that I pulled out of my garage and cut up.”  He cautions that not all fabrics found around the house are good options for a face mask. Some materials, including furnace filters made of Fiberglas, can send fibers into a person’s lungs. “We want people to understand what is effective and what is not,” Smith says. “We feel that in the next week we’ll have a design available.”
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