In the first few months of the pandemic, personal protective equipment such as face masks became scarce. It triggered a group of bachelor students at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science (EEMCS) to put their talents to use. They switched their ongoing bachelor graduation project to a topic that could provide a solution to the increasing need for protective gear.
“At that point in time there was a desperate shortage of protective equipment, especially in intensive care units,” team member Jasper-Jan Lut recalls. “It was an excellent moment to see if we electrical engineering students could figure out a way to make face masks better and smarter and thus reduce the scarcity.”
- TU Delft TV made a short documentary about the future face mask:
In their quest for the future face mask, they ultimately developed a face mask filter module with embedded ultraviolet sterilisation technology, on-board power, and sensors that monitor filter performance. Such advanced smart filters could serve as a key module in novel types of smart personal protective equipment and other critical air filtration applications.
Comfortable and easy to use
The UV sterilisation technique had not yet been used in wearable items. “And as far as I know we are also one of the first to actually make a wearable item that cleans the air while you breathe it in,” says Lut.
‘Some UV light is so powerful that it can even kill bacteria or viruses’
How does UV light clean face masks, you might wonder. Supervisor Dr Henk van Zeijl explains. “Some UV light is so powerful that it can even kill bacteria or viruses. Each photon of the UV light carries so much energy that once absorbed by the DNA molecule, it breaks that molecule apart and makes it impossible for the virus to reproduce. Hence, it will kill the virus and this is why we would like to use UV light to sterilise masks and other objects.”
The replaceable modules fit on any face mask currently available on the market. “So if you are, for example, in a hospital’s intensive care unit and there are viruses all around you, you can wear this module. It cleans your mask while you are wearing it,” Lut adds.
This is why this is project is so important, he emphasises. “We are creating more comfortable, easy to use and safer equipment for our healthcare workers to protect themselves while working in these terrible conditions.”