Face masks have become a part of our lives amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and while their presence is crucial for stopping the spread, they do come with certain drawbacks.
One such drawback is that the fact that they are not easy to dispose of since they trap pathogens instead of destroying them. A used-mask tossed into an open waste bin can be a new source of contamination, which is why researchers in Forró’s lab are working on a better material.
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The membrane made of titanium oxide nanowires looks similar to filter paper; however, it has big advantages in contrast since it has antiviral and antibacterial properties. Moreover, the new material can trap pathogens and destroy them when ultraviolet light is applied, which makes it reusable.
The team demonstrated how the filter destroyed Escherichia coli bacteria and degrade strands of DNA in an experiment. The filter was able to wipe out the microorganisms in the mask itself.
While the new material hasn't been tested with SARS-CoV-2 yet, the team thinks that the nanowire masks could be immensely useful in stopping the spread of the virus. It may take some time before you can buy a nanowire mask from Walmart; however, the researchers are hopeful.
The researchers wrote, "As of today, the technology we propose, exclusively under laboratory conditions, will allow for the filter production capacity of about 100-200 m2 per week. This is enough to fabricate 40,000 - 80,000 reusable masks monthly."
Since single-use masks are fueling an already-developing environmental crisis, their masks' reusability is definitely a plus. A start-up named Swoxid already wants to move the technology out of the lab and to the streets. Moreover, Endre Horváth, the article's lead author and co-founder of Swoxid states, "The membranes could also be used in air treatment applications such as ventilation and air conditioning systems as well as in personal protective equipment."
The research has been published in Advanced Functional Materials.