You may not have met the man before, but you sure must have seen his work. Peter Tsai is the brain behind the technology that produced the N95 respirator masks, now in high demand. He was one time a faculty member of the Department of Material Science and Engineering at the Tickle College of Engineering, University of Tennessee. The patented design in 1995 was first to prevent the spread of drug-resistant tuberculosis.
However, in recent times, the design became famous as a viable tool to prevent the spread of the COVID19 pandemic. But the shortage of the N95 mask has compelled him out of retirement to join the combat against coronavirus. Now, the focus of research is on how to decontaminate N95 masks in the N95DECON project together with other scientists. Besides, the Taiwanese American Professor now applies his knowledge in the field of non-woven fabric to solve the pandemic.
In 2018, Professor Tsai had developed a new method that doubled the filtration capacity of the in-use medical masks. But he retired from the University of Tennessee in 2019, until the COVID19 pandemic forced him into the lab again. It is obvious why it was essential to have someone like Peter Tsai on the N95DECON team. Decontamination, via a redesign, became quintessential due to the limitation of the exportation ban of lead producing countries like Taiwan and China.
As a result of this limitation in supply, prices went up, and the few suppliers hoarded, leading to confiscation. Apart from this supply, the main raw material for producing the primary filters, non-woven polypropylene, also became limited in quantity. As recent developments went on, the Donald Trump-led administration triggered the Defense Production Act in March over 3M, an American company to acquire as many N95 masks as needed.
Therefore, the expert’s knowledge is indispensable in the production and supply of the materials to target countries. Besides, the fabric composition requires improvement as the fear of contamination is rising concerning the face masks with valves. N95 masks are unique due to the electrostatically charged fabric that filters off micro-particles, thereby improving efficiency. Now, an attempt at decontamination will find a possible chance of reuse, while retaining its effectiveness. So far, the Professor has discovered a dry-heat technology that can tidy up the mask without hampering the technology.
In response to why he came out of retirement, Peter Tsai, 68, answered Yahoo Life, “If I did not help, I would regret it for the rest of my life because people are dying. “ Furthermore, as against the growing medical concern of the mask, he claims that a person wearing the mask is still 95% protected while a healthy person without the mask is only sure of 30 to 40% protection. Putting all factors together, we can all hope that a solution is found to the pandemic, and we get over quickly with this trying time.