At this point, it has become nearly impossible to talk about the Coronavirus pandemic without mentioning N95 and its importance during the whole course. An N95 respirator that was before the pandemic considered just a normal respirator was suddenly elevated to the stature of “lifeline” considering how big of a role they played in the still ongoing fight against this infectious disease. From healthcare workers to government officials and even the general public, everyone’s pick for a reliable mask was the N95 respirator.
The reason N95 was widely preferred by the masses during the recent pandemic was due to its efficient protection against droplets, fluids, and other airborne particulates such as viruses, bacteria, and even dust the up-to-the size of 0.3 microns. The N95 has been clinically tested to provide 95% protection against all the aforementioned particulates and is also approved by the leading agencies of America such as NIOSH and CDC. However, an invention as great as N95 couldn’t have come into being that easily—it must have been a long and strenuous journey to have achieved N95 the way it is today.
The history of respirators
The coronavirus wasn’t the first outbreak that had later turned into a pandemic—in fact, the world had witnessed countless wide-spread illnesses before such as the Ebola virus, cholera, aids, and various types of Influenzas. This means that even before the occurrence of the COVID-19, there was still a requirement for a reliable and efficient mask to give protection to people who were fighting against these diseases. Even the people who weren’t associated with the medical sector required respirator, for instance--the people who worked in construction sites.
But there wasn’t an N95 respirator at that time, and yet the healthcare and construction workers had to do their jobs, so they utilized the masks which were available at the time-the heavy and bulky masks that were way too big and difficult to breathe in. But with time, came ease and the N95 mask was created which put an end to the usage of those uncomfortable and bulky face masks for good.
Who invented the N95?
The first-ever N95 mask was developed by 3M in 1972. This N95 respirator was developed to be used in the construction site and right after its development became a means of protection for the people who are associated with this sector. However, there was another sector that needed the similar protection that an N95 respirator provided and that was the medical sector. The person who took notice of this problem was Peter Tsai who felt like it was his responsibility to do something for the healthcare workers, which led to the development of N95 masks for the medical sector.
The man who invented the synthetic fabric that is being used in the N95 masks of today was invented by Peter Tsai, a material scientist hailing from the country of Taiwan. Peter developed a team of researchers at the University of Tennessee, where he used to be a professor at the time. His main aim was to develop a material that could filter air by the method of attracting particles with the help of electrostatically charged fibers. In the year 19922, the team successfully managed to develop a material consisting of both positive and negative charges enabling it to attract airborne particulates such as dust, droplets, and bacteria even.
After the material was developed, the 3M Company developed it into an actual respirator that is now widely used by all healthcare workers in America. The name of the particular mask that was intended to be used by the medical professionals is called “surgical respirator”.
N95 during COVID-19
Although Peter was successful in his mission of developing a mask fit for medical professionals, his struggle didn’t quite stop there. When the outbreak of the notorious COVID-19 begun, the healthcare workers’ lives were at stake. They were working without PPE which was dangerous and due to the lack of availability of N95s, some had even resorted to reusing the respirators that are disposable and advised to be worn once only. As a result, Peter was called back to work, ending his retirement.
However, the reason this time Peter was at work wasn’t because he wanted to develop a mask, instead he was called to figure out a method to speed up the production of masks and further to figure out a possible way of sterilizing the mask. Sterilization of N95s is something that many scientists are working on at the moment and many of them have even figured out quite viable ways of doing so as well. And according to Peter, the best way to sterilize a mask for reuse is to leave it in an isolated place for seven days, which will give enough time to the bacteria that is trapped inside the mask to become inactive, and after that, it may be okay to use.
Even though N95 respirators were being widely used decades before the occurrence of the coronavirus, suffice it is to say that the magnitude of this respirator’s true importance has been realized during this pandemic. Even Peter Tsai, the inventor himself couldn’t have known that his invention would be the recipient of such importance and how this respirator will become a hot commodity during the pandemic. This creation that came into being by Peter and 3M will be remembered by generations to come.