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Building a better mask: FSU professor researching how to improve face masks

Published: Mar. 25, 2021 at 7:11 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - As we near a year of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the leading barriers against the virus, masks, continue to be worn all across the United States and worldwide.

We have all experienced the frustrations that come with the pieces of cloth: maybe they are too tight or perhaps they slip off your face.

One professor at Florida State University is looking to improve how our masks can be better and prove that masks are ready to protect us against any and all viruses.

We have all been there. We have adjusted and re-adjusted our masks, tried to see through fogged glasses. Needless to say, our face coverings are far from perfect.

Samantha Peters, an FSU student, said, “I’ll have to tuck the cotton underneath the glasses so they stay on my nose.”

“I’ve had a lot of masks that aren’t adjustable,” another FSU student, Lizzie Eatlnm shared. “They are either way too big or way too small.”

In the past year, by trial and error, many of us, like Eatln, have learned what works best.

“It has this chin part under here so it stays on better, so it doesn’t slide off me,” Eatln added. “I’ve had other masks that just slip down my nose, which obviously we can’t have...And I can fix it how I want every single day.”

“As long as it fits on the side,” said student Steve Chandler. “Fits on the bottom, goes over your nose, that seems to be good criteria.”

That is also criteria that FSU professor Kourosh Shoele is measuring in the hopes of building a better mask.

“If you look at the mask in terms of mechanical systems, it has two factors that affect it’s efficacy,” Shoele said. “One is how well the filtration works, the other is how good does it fit on the faces?”

With a three year grant from the National Science Foundation, the Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering is working alongside mechanical engineers at John Hopkins and Brown University. This grant will be in place for the next three years.

Shoele will be focusing on the best size and fit to make masks more effective. “We encounter many different faces, in same features of the face changes, weight index changes, the gender, it all has different effects. And then we go buy the mask, and it’s much different from how we buy our clothes, just one standard mask they give to you,” Shoele explained.

Studying computer generated models of more than 1,000 faces, Shoele found the biggest concern is leakages around the edges of the mask.

“Of course, if you tape it around, it will be very sure,” he said, “But at the same time, it will be very hard to wear it every day for a long time. So our hope is with small changes with the current design. We could get both benefits, make it more efficient, as well as not make it too uncomfortable that the people are reluctant to wear it.”

Shoele’s research shows the need for at least three mask sizes, which would provide more range than the simple rectangular one size fits all.

“We come up with an innovative way to tackle this variability of the faces and connect the design to many, many people. And come up with some kind of metrics that can be used for many in the population,” said Shoele.

With this research, Shoele hopes that masks are no longer a burden, but efficient for everyone.

“This does not replace the vaccine or other more sophisticated protection techniques. But this is simple knowledge and simple step that we can give to the public,” stated Shoele. “That helps them recover from this pandemic and also recover from any potential, I hope that it doesn’t happen, but potential pandemics in the future.”

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