Ilaria Rubino, a recent Ph.D. graduate from the University of Alberta, has developed unique masks using a salt-based technology that coats the first or middle layer of a protective mask and potentially dissolves coronavirus droplets before they can penetrate the face covering. The young innovator said her main objective was to innovate a technology that could inactivate the pathogens upon contact to make the mask as useful as possible.

The masks are reusable, non-washable, and made from a type of polypropylene, a plastic used in surgical masks, and could be safely worn and handled multiple times without being decontaminated. Rubino said the idea of this type of mask was to replace surgical masks often worn by health-care workers, who must dispose of them after a few hours. The technology could potentially be used for N-95 respirators.

The masks can kill the virus within five minutes. Rubino said when the liquid from the droplets evaporates, the salt crystals grow back as spiky weapons, damaging the bacteria or virus. In addition to preventing the coronavirus, the masks could also be used to stop the spread of other infectious illnesses. She said the salt-coated masks would be in the market soon after regulatory approval. Rubino received an innovation award from Mitacs on Tuesday. She said she collaborated with a researcher at Georgia State University in Atlanta to advance her project.

Dr. Catherine Clase, an epidemiologist and associate professor of medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, said that “exciting” technology would have multiple benefits. She said there wasn’t much research in personal protective equipment when Rubino began her work. Clase said the masks would decrease the footprint for making and distributing and then disposing of every mask and addressing any supply issues.

Additionally, Conor Ruzycki, an aerosol scientist in the University of Alberta’s mechanical engineering department, said Rubino’s innovation adds to more recent research on masks as COVID-19 cases rise and shortages of face coverings in the health-care system could again become a problem.


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