The Retired Inventor of N95 Masks is Fighting COVID-19

Wednesday, July 8, 2020 - 10:35
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Peter Tsai, the inventor who, in 1995, patented the filtration material used in disposable N95 respirators, retired two years ago but he has never been busier.

When the novel coronavirus began gripping the globe in March, Tsai was summoned from his short-lived retirement. The coveted masks are in short supply and are desperately needed by health-care workers and others who require protection from the highly contagious coronavirus, LMT Online reports.

“Everyone was asking me about the respirators,” said Tsai, 68, who is originally from Taiwan and now lives in Knoxville, Tenn.

Mainly, people wanted to know how to scale up production in the wake of a mass shortage and how to sterilize the masks for reuse.

N95 masks have become a critical commodity as the pandemic has fueled a global scarcity of the virus-blocking equipment. Unlike other forms of personal protective equipment, including homemade masks and cloth covers, N95 masks actually filter out contaminants, making them the most protective masks on the market.

“I started working almost 20 hours a day,” he said, adding he’s doing it mostly on a volunteer basis. “But I didn’t mind.”

His central finding was that N95 masks can be heated at 158 degrees Fahrenheit for 60 minutes using a dry heat method without diminishing the filtration technology, and his hypothesis was validated by the National Institutes of Health.

Although Tsai technically retired in 2018, “he never stopped working and thinking of ways to improve his technology,” said Maha Krishnamurthy, the vice president of the University of Tennessee Research Foundation.

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