Personal protective equipment, or PPE, is life-saving gear that’s become critical for fighting the spread of COVID-19. Yet disposable surgical masks come with their own set of problems, producing an alarming new form of waste that’s making its way into our ecosystems. Opaque face coverings also present an obstacle for hearing-impaired people who rely on lip-reading.
These challenges inspired inventor Alice Min Soo Chun to design a better reusable face mask. She was struck by photos of health-care workers displaying the irritation and bruising caused by wearing personal protective gear for many hours. During lockdown, Chun channeled her energy into making dozens of mask prototypes in her kitchen. She also researched natural alternatives to non-recyclable materials used in N95 masks, like polypropylene.
Her new design, called the SEEUS95, is a durable, clear mask that adheres to the face without straps. “I really think this is going to help a lot of people,” Chun said.
The mask creates an airtight seal with the wearer’s face using silicon and chitosan, a material that’s commonly used to help burn victims, and can also be found in anti-wrinkle beauty products. The mask has two replaceable filters that use a combination of bamboo fibers, silk, nano sliver and activated carbon. Chun found that in past studies, these materials performed comparably to an N95 mask, and she’s also conducting ongoing testing in partnership the MIT Lincoln Lab.
She explained that the interior of the mask is treated with a coating to prevent fogging, and if the user needs to create more air flow inside the mask, the chin flap can be released without removing the mask entirely. Chun says she also created detachable ear hooks, which work like the arms on eye glasses, in case some people want that option.
This isn’t the first time that Chun has been inspired by an international crisis. She’s also the inventor of the SolarPuff, a lightweight solar lantern that she created to help the survivors of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
To get the SEEUS95 into mass production, Chun launched a Kickstarter campaign, and she hopes her backers will receive masks by December. Of course, no mask can perfectly protect the wearer from coronavirus, and supporting any crowd-funding campaign involves more risk than purchasing a product that’s already on store shelves.
The more we learn about the causes and implications of this current pandemic, the more we see how they are intertwined with climate change. Deforestation may push this virus or others like it into contact with humans. At the same time, research has shown that the same air pollution that’s causing climate change likely makes people more vulnerable to COVID-19.
Like so many other everyday products, from straws to grocery bags, picking a reusable option over a throwaway version is the more sustainable choice. Disinfecting a reusable mask means less embodied energy and less plastic waste compared to using a disposable mask every time you’re in public. The SEEUS95 is a beautiful example of how innovation and invention can make our lives more sustainable and inclusive, even in the midst of a global pandemic.Share This