Battery-powered face mask with a copper mesh heated to 194°F to kill coronavirus in the air has been invented by Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists.

Instead of sifting them out, an electric facemask could exterminate coronavirus aerosols by passing the air you inhale through a fine copper mesh heated to 194°F (90°C) .

The mask would be enclosed in insulating neoprene to enable it to be worn properly.

It will probably be more costly than cloth and surgical masks, or N95 respirators as the researchers said.

Nevertheless, it would be suitable for circumstances where risk of viral exposure was great for instance places like public transport or health care.

Similarly, the mask would not require to be binned or sterilised after use.

Furthermore, it would not need to be disposed of or sterilised after being used.

The researchers have filed for a copyright on the mask design and have started to build prototypes on which to run physical tests.

‘The vast majority of masks today function by filtration, filtering particles by size or electric charge,’ said paper author and chemical engineer Samuel Faucher.

‘This is a completely new mask concept in that it doesn’t primarily block the virus,’ added senior author and fellow chemical engineer Michael Strano.

‘It actually lets the virus go through the mask, but slows and inactivates it.’

In their research, the researchers developed mathematical models to deduce the greatest temperature range the mesh will have to attain in order to thermally inactivate coronavirus aerosols as they are breathed in or out of the mask.

They deduced that a temperature of about 194°F (90°C) can lessen viral concentration in the air by between a factor of a thousand and a million — but this depends on how big the mask itself is.

This temperature can be attained by operating an electric current across the mesh — which is composed of 0.1 millimetre-thick copper wire — receiving energy from a 9-volt battery, which should be capable of powering the mask for a few hours at a time.

The team also enhanced the mask’s efficiency by building it as a so-called ‘reverse flow reactor’ — in which breathing in and out makes the air flow through the mesh to reverse, passing viral aerosols back across the mesh several times.

‘This design means you can wear a small mask, something that will fit on your face, but the virus can spend much more time getting deactivated than it would without the reverse flow reactor design,’ said Professor Strano.

‘What we show is that it’s possible to wear something on your face that’s not too cumbersome, that can actually allow you to breathe medically sterile air,’ said Professor Strano.

‘The prospect of being able to breathe in medically sterile air and breathe out medically sterile air — protecting the people around you and protecting yourself — is just the next step. It’s better technology.’

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