Atlantic TU winning Review Paper recommends optimum Materials for Masks and Respirators

  • Materials used in the masks are the same as those used at the beginning of the 20th century 
  • 25-29% of respirators were found to be worn incorrectly reducing their effectiveness
  • Cleaning of masks using ultraviolet light for reuse was effective in the elimination of influenzas but resulted in a 90% degradation of the mask material
  • The use of steam for mask cleaning was also capable of disinfecting but increased the mask pore size reducing its ability to filter out microorganism
  • Surgical masks are less efficient than respirators

A review paper published by researchers at Atlantic Technological University (ATU) has found face masks that are disinfected by ultraviolet light resulted in a 90% degradation of the mask material.  It also found the use of steam for mask cleaning was also capable of disinfecting but increased the mask pore size, reducing its ability to filter out microorganism.

Atlantic TU PhD researcher Kris O’Dowd and a team of researchers at the Nanotechnology and Bio-Engineering Research group at ATU Sligo campus received the best paper award from the peer reviewed journal ‘Materials’ for the paper entitled “Face Masks and Respirators in the Fight Against the Covid-19 Pandemic: A Review of Current Materials, Advances and Future Perspectives”.

The review paper was part of a response to the Covid-19 crisis after a call from Sligo University Hospital requested ATU Sligo for assistance at the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020.

ATU Sligo assembled a project team to manufacture PPEs and essential components of the diagnostic test for Covid-19 to assist front-line HSE staff to deal with the Covid-19 emergency. Over 10,000 PPEs were produced and distributed across the west and north west of Ireland.  Also manufacture of critical  components of the Covid-19 diagnostic test kit permitted regional hospitals to commence Covid-19 diagnostic testing in Spring 2020 . Ruth Moran and her team at ATU Sligo campus worked closely with local community services for the distribution of PPEs with the help of local HSE, Local Authorities, Gardaí, etc.

In this paper the  ATU Sligo team examined various facemasks and respirators, looking at the current materials in use and possible future innovations that will enhance their protection against SARS-CoV-2.

The review paper found that up to 29% of respirators (Higher grade masks such as N95) were worn incorrectly reducing their effectiveness.   However, the report found wearing masks helped prevent the spread of disease.

It also found little improvement had been made in the material used in masks since the start of the 20th century.  Billions of masks, mostly disposable, are used every month and the ability to re-use has been debated over the past two years.  Many suggested disposable masks could be disinfected using ultra-violet or steam.  However, both these methods have proven to degrade the masks beyond safe use.

This award winning paper stated new materials being developed such as graphene oxide can enhance the antimicrobial efficiency of the masks; “Recently, several studies have been performed to improve the efficiency of the respirators and masks against ultra-fine particles such as viruses and other pathogens….the virus disinfection capability can be improved by treating the filter surfaces with materials that possess antimicrobial properties….With the rapid growth of nanotechnology, fabrication and development of nanomaterials have been improved significantly.”

The development of masks with temperature sensitive dyes can allow for easy identification of sick individuals in a group.   This will be especially useful in hospital settings.

ATU Sligo Campus, Head of College Dr. Brendan McCormack said; “This award is very timely recognition of the work that the team did during the COVID-19 as we now begin to emerge out the other side of the pandemic. It will also help to inform other reviews that are beginning of the whole process and how we can fight infection more effectively.”

The researchers involved in this work are Kris O’Dowd, Keerthi M. Nair, Parnia Forouzandeh, Snehamol Mathew and Jamie Grant. The work was led by the Head of the Faculty of Science Dr. Jeremy Bird, head of research Dr. John Bartlett, Ms. Ruth Moran and Prof. Suresh C. Pillai.

The award consists of cash prize and a certificate acknowledging the contribution of the authors. The paper has been cited over 125 times since its publication.

The full paper is available HERE.