Today’s Solutions: December 03, 2023

Since the start of the pandemic, N95 respirators have been touted as the gold-standard for face masks. One of the main strengths of these masks is that they feature an electrocharged filter that attracts and holds viruses, preventing them from passing through. But while they provide the best protection, N95 masks are quite expensive compared to other types.

In a bid to find a cheaper alternative, a physicist has recently discovered an ingenious, yet unconventional, way to produce this much sought-after PPE: using a cotton candy machine.

Developed by Mahesh Bandi, a scientist at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, the new technique involves heating discarded plastics such as bottles or shopping bags and then putting them into an ordinary cotton candy machine. The rotating machine then produces a tightly-woven material that’s similar to cotton candy, which is also electrocharged by the spinning.

Bandi then integrated these charged fabrics into masks that he designed himself using a 3D printer. After rigorous testing, including microscopic inspections and comparisons with N95 filters, the physicist found that the filters were as effective as standard N95-type respirators at preventing inhalation of SARS-CoV-2 viruses.

While the scientist doesn’t plan to mass-produce these masks himself, the procedure has been published in detail in a research paper to allow others to do so.

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