The mask is getting a high-tech update.
The models being tested now do more than provide a physical barrier between the user and potential viruses. Materials scientists, chemists, biologists, and engineers have created functional mask prototypes that include diagnostics, sensors, and even the ability to kill virus.
In the near future, if you are on an airplane and the person next to you sneezes, you could be wearing a mask that sterilizes the air before inhaling it.
Some of these new masks are designed for healthcare workers, while others will be marketed for both healthcare workers and consumers. Masks and respirators marketed as medical devices or as protection for workers must be approved for sale by the Food and Drug Administration or the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or Niosh. (Respirators are masks that provide a tight seal to the face, like the N95, and must fit properly to provide your ideal protection.)
“I’m excited about the attention being paid to masks,” says Christopher Sulmonte, project manager for the biocontainment unit at Johns Hopkins Medicine. The new ideas “have a certain scientific rigor,” he says. “Once we see how they work, we will start to see which tools make the most sense.”