The intended use of N95 masks pre-COVID

The N95 is just a respirator but has now become a household name in light of the Coronavirus pandemic that took over the world by storm earlier this year and has only just begun to subside now. What is so special about the N95 mask you may ask? Unless you’ve been living under a rock, one would already be aware of the N95s protection against airborne particulates. The N95 could be deemed as one’s lifeline in these present times due to its supposed protection against the deadly disease.

This particulate filtering N95 mask that has a cup-like appearance is said to filter out at least 95% of the airborne particulates and is approved by the United States National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, otherwise known as NIOSH. The N95 is acquired through the process of melt blowing and the aforementioned process also helps to form the innermost layer which filters out the hazardous particles. The N95 however is only functional in the absence of oil particles and is non-resistant to oil.

Now one can’t help but wonder why did they create an N95 and what led to its creation? Surely, the creators weren’t clairvoyant and in no way could have seen this disaster of a virus, that’s caused the death of more than one million people now coming our way and wreaking havoc into our lives. The answer to that question can only be given by one man and that is Peter Tsai, the brain behind the N95.

Meet Peter Tsai, the man behind the creation of the N95 Masks

Peter Tsai is a Taiwanese American who is a materials scientist and an expert on non woven fabrics and a graduate of National Taipei University of Technology- from where he graduated with a degree in chemical fiber engineering. Tsai invented and patented the material that is now used in the N95 masks about 25 years ago, in 1995. Tsai was on his retirement when the pandemic began but as the first wave struck the first world countries and the virus began to grow out of control, he was called back to work and advise on crucial matters such as the scaling of the N95s production and how to make the N95s reusable.

How the N95 masks came into being

At the University of Knoxville, Tennessee, where Tsai was also a professor at the time. He went on to gather a team of scientists and was the one leading them as well. The objective of this team was to develop a fabric that could filter air by attracting particles with the help of electrostatically charged fibers. In 1992, this team of scientists managed to create a fabric with both negative and positive charges that were successfully able to trap 95% of particles such as dust, viruses, and bacteria by polarization before they pass through the mask eventually.

Tsai further explained that the main intention behind the creation of these fibers, which later served as the framework for the original N95 was for using them as home filters. Home filters are used for the cleaning of coils used in air conditions and heating systems to improve their performance. But using an invention as great as this for cleaning purposes only would have been a waste of the product’s original potential and luckily, this mistake was soon realized by everyone.

The Original N95 was designed for construction workers

After the potential of the fibers that were created by Peter Tsai was evaluated, the original N95 was soon brought to life and this unique mask by the name of N95 was designed for the protection of construction workers. These workers worked in unhealthy and dusty environments and since the N95 was successfully able to block out micro particles, it was the ideal choice for the people associated with this profession.

The enhanced N95 for healthcare professionals

In 1996, it was discovered by the CDC that the N95 could also block out pathogens and viruses. As a result of this, Peter Tsai’s invented fabric was combined with the American Multinational conglomerate, 3M’s design, and this collaboration gave birth to the N95 respirator that has become the primary choice for all healthcare workers around the world due to its guaranteed protection. The N95 variant that’s used by the medical staff is categorized as the ‘surgical respirator.

The creation of N95, if one ponders upon it, was an act of sheer genius, imagine if there were no N95s in the world and the fibers that Tsai developed were indeed being used to clean coils. What would have become of the world? The construction workers, for whom the original N95 was developed, would still be wearing the bulky head masks they formerly used to wear and the lives of the people associated with the medical sector would be at a huge risk. Moreover, the record of the number of deaths by the Coronavirus would have witnessed such a huge surge that one would shiver to even think about it.


Peter Tsai, the man behind the N95 mask created something that helped save millions of lives. What was originally intended to be worn by construction workers only at the time of mining, constructing, and painting later became the favorite of healthcare professionals and then the general public who were seeking protection against deadly COVID-19. At the moment, Peter is working to discover a solution that will make the N95s reusable and has also expressed his optimism at the likelihood of this happening

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