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Peter Tsai, inventor of N95 masks, comes back from retirement to fight Covid-19

Peter Tsai invented the core filtration material used in N95 masks. He had retired in 2019, only to be called back by national labs, firms and healthcare workers facing shortage of masks.

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New Delhi: Taiwanese-American scientist Peter Tsai, who invented the core technology used in N95 masks, has come out of his retirement to help fight Covid-19.

Tsai had, in 1995, patented the filtration material used in disposable N95 respirators.

When the novel coronavirus began gripping the world sometime around March, Tsai began receiving calls and queries from national laboratories, firms and healthcare workers in the US because N95 masks were in short supply, reports The Washington Post. He had retired in 2019.

People wanted to know how to scale up production in the wake of a mass shortage of masks and ways to sterilise them for reuse.

His 1995 invention gives the filter fabric of these masks a permanent electrostatic charge by exposing it to a halo of electricity. Scientists have called this an electrical “corona“, while Tsai has named it “coronal charging”.

Today, the coincidence of these names isn’t lost on him. “I use coronal charging to fight coronavirus,” said Tsai, who lives in Knoxville, Tenn.

Since the outbreak, the 68-year-old inventor has been fighting the pandemic on two fronts — rapidly scaling up production of N95 masks and finding new techniques to sterilise them for re-use.

The 68-year-old inventor had set up a makeshift laboratory in his home, where he lives with his wife and daughter. He began experimenting ways to decontaminate N95 masks, without degrading its filtration abilities. His methods included washing with soap and alcohol as well as boiling, steaming and baking them.

Tsai finally found that N95 masks can be heated at 158 degrees Fahrenheit for 60 minutes using a dry heat method without diminishing the filtration technology. The National Institutes of Health has validated this hypothesis.

Also read: Over 200 scientists claim airborne transmission risk of Covid is higher than believed

Peter Tsai holds 12 US patents

After graduating from the National Taipei University of Technology in 1975, Tsai has had a long career in engineering and textile manufacturing. He holds 12 US patents and had developed the filtration technology for N95 masks during his research at the University of Tennessee Knoxville.

Tsai today recommends non woven fabrics, like car shop towels as homemade alternative material to N95 masks.

Also read: WHO changes guidelines on masks, says wear them when social distancing not possible


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