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Student Lab Wins Covid-19 Mask Challenge

Floemask drawing

With the Floemask, exhaled air is directed out the filter, rather than out of the top of the mask, preventing glasses from getting fogged up. (Luminosity Lab, Arizona State Univ.)

23 Dec. 2020. An interdisciplinary university student lab won top prize in a design competition for a new type of face mask to block Covid-19 transmissions. A team from Arizona State University’s Luminosity Lab in Tempe is receiving the first-place $500,000 prize from XPrize, an organization seeking crowd-sourced ideas for difficult technical and societal problems.

The Next-Gen Mask Challenge sought designs for a functional face mask that protects against the spread of Covid-19, as well as be comfortable to wear, accessible for many people, and even designed with style. Proposed masks need to meet filtration requirements of surgical masks as a performance criterion.

In addition, masks must address at least five of the top 10 barriers expressed for wearing masks during the pandemic: fogging of glasses, getting too hot, being uncomfortable, causing breathing difficulties, making conversations challenging, prohibiting exercise while wearing, causing pain or not fitting properly, blocking facial expressions, preventing eating or drinking, not being eco-friendly, looking ugly or boring, and difficult to acquire.

XPrize opened the competition to teams of participants age 15 to 24. Because of the the pandemic’s urgency, as reported by Science & Enterprise in July 2020, the challenge required initial submissions in two months, yet still received entries from 992 teams in 76 countries.

The Arizona State team entered its Floemask, designed to meet one of the main complaints of face masks: fogging up eyeglasses. The Floemask is built to capture exhaled breath in two chambers, for the nose and mouth. The separate chambers direct exhaled breath away from glasses, and keep the face cooler, as well as the inhaled breath fresher. The design also allows for lifting up to ease eating and drinking.

Floemask and other teams

The Floemask team is led by Nikhil Dave, an undergraduate double-majoring in neuroscience and innovation in society. The team includes undergraduate mechanical engineering student Katie Pascavis, graduate electrical engineering student John Patterson, undergraduate graphic design student Jerina Gabriel, and graduate industrial engineering student Tarun Suresh.

“We went through several design iterations,” says Dave in a university statement, “but trying to create something that doesn’t fog your glasses but doesn’t leave hot air on the face is not an easy task for sure. But I think the other thing is to ensure that whatever we’re creating also has to be breathable, but also maintain the filtration efficiency needed to be an effective mask and preventing any sort of contagious pathogen.”

The Luminosity Lab is an interdisciplinary research and development group on the Arizona State campus that selects high-achieving students from diverse backgrounds to solve complex problems. Earlier this year, the lab created a decentralized network of 3-D printing sites at businesses, universities, and in communities to manufacture personal protective equipment, or PPE, for Arizona health care providers. The PPE Response Network also includes processors to sterilize and deliver 3-D printed pieces to hospitals and clinics.

XPrize judges awarded second-place prizes to a team from Johns Hopkins University for its Polair mask and the Naija Force mask from a team in Abuja, Nigeria. The Polair mask prototype has a modular design that allows for swapping out different filtration materials to meet different environmental conditions. The Naija Force mask is made with transparent materials and designed to be worn with straps around the ears or over the head. Each second-prize team wins $250,000.

The teams will next refine their prototypes to meet filtration requirements and prepare for market entry, using insights offered by the challenge judges.

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