Researchers examine how COVID-19 face masks can be made more effective

Face masks are helpful in preventing the spread of COVID-19, but researchers believe they can be made even more effective, something that has implications far beyond the current pandemic as masks could become a more commonly used public health intervention.

Kourosh Shoele, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, is part of a team that has received an $800,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to improve the efficacy of face masks as a defense against COVID-19 and other pathogens.

Shoele and his team hope to understand the flow physics and mechanics of face masks used to protect against the virus. They are also studying how face masks fit different users -- and how they can be designed for the faces of a wider swath of the general population.

The protection afforded by face masks has emerged as a particularly important issue in the COVID-19 pandemic, and the flow physics of these types of masks is extremely complex and not well-studied, especially when it comes to the facial topology of the user."

Kourosh Shoele, Assistant Professor in Department of Mechanical Engineering, Florida State University

The research findings are significant because widespread mask-wearing can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. For the masks to offer the best protection, they need to conform to the user's face.

Shoele hopes the data generated from the study may improve designs and provide scientific standards that will make face masks more protective. His lab, which includes doctoral students Tomas Solano and Tso-Kang Wang, is collaborating closely with professors at Johns Hopkins University and Brown University to look at different aspects using theory, computation and experiments.

"You may have noticed that your mask collapses onto your face when inhaling and re-inflates when exhaling," Solano said. "Or that your glasses fog up when using a mask. This shows perimeter leakage that can dramatically reduce the effectiveness of the mask. Many times, this is simply because the mask doesn't fit properly. We want to correct these problems."

Shoele hopes to use facial topology data to develop more computational and experimental tools that standardize guidelines for face mask design. The criteria established from the data will help characterize the performance of face masks.

"We are using innovative and powerful new tools to understand the flow physics and mechanics that determine how well the face mask protects," he said. "The quantitative analysis we use will provide data to better understand the viral transmission of disease and help us create better transmission models."

One of the techniques the scientists are using in the new study involved comparing digital images of facial geometries to how the mask moves on the different users' faces.

Using visible and X-ray techniques, the scientists take measurements inside and outside the face mask and look at how particles escape around the perimeter.

"We think the combined results of simulations and experiments could yield critical insights needed for the design of face masks," Shoele said. "The guidance we can provide will help scientists improve face mask design with standards that will help support public health policies."

Comments

  1. Dora Smith Dora Smith United States says:

    My masks, which specifically fit well and seal well, are like all masks made by design standards hard to breathe through, and they often collapse and inflate as I breathe, especially when riding my bicycle.  

    I have never seen a mask with leakage around the edge have this problem; those are worthless, but very easy to breathe through!

    I am wondering if this is what the author meant to say   Perhaps he meant that if it is possible for air to leak around the mask that would force air to come in around the edges of the mask.    But how would it by itself indicate air leakage?   It seems pretty clear it just indicates a high efficiency mask that is hard to breathe through!

    Only N95 masks are both effective and easy to breathe through.  Two layers of properly dense fabric never will be.

    Yours,
    Dora Smith

  2. john davies john davies United Kingdom says:

    Most masks don't stop bacteria @ ~  2 microns; The average size of covid 19 Virus is about 0.125 microns.

    A study of health-care workers in more than 1,600 hospitals showed that cloth masks only filtered out 3 percent of particles. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine stated, “Wearing a mask outside health care facilities offers little, if any, protection from infection” and that “the desire for widespread masking is a reflexive reaction to anxiety over the pandemic.”
    There are many other credible studies showing lack of mask efficacy, such as these studies published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information - Cambridge University Press - Oxford Clinical Infectious Diseases &  Influenza Journal, just to name a few.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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