FRONT PAGE: To Mask Or Not To Mask: Study Provides Mechanism To Test Materials

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dWeb.News Article from Daniel Webster dWeb.News

Newswise — STONY BROOK, NY, October 21, 2021 – In a study that used inorganic, physical and analytical chemistry to mimic respiratory droplets that can carry viruses, researchers demonstrated a mechanism that enables multiple mask materials to be protective. The study results, led by Stonybrook University Professor Amy Marschilok Ph.D., suggest that mask materials’ adsorptivity is an important feature for protecting against viruses like SARS-CoV-2. The paper was published in Applied Materials & Interfaces ,, a journal the American Chemical Society.

Studies evaluating dry measurements of particles to test mask breakthrough have been conducted during the 2020-21 pandemic. Researchers in this study, however, used a new method to create a virus nanoparticle replica using functionalized nanoparticles suspended with artificial saliva. The suspension was then sprayed onto the mask. Scientists were then able to use a unique wet characterization approach to evaluate the effectiveness of possible mask materials. The study tests the effectiveness of mask materials in trapping virus in saliva droplets. It is not a screen.

“We were aware of the delicate nature of N 95 respirators and decided to compare mask materials. We also used the evaluation method that we developed to evaluate the manufacturing readiness and technology of different mask materials.” Marschilok is Associate Professor in Chemistry and Co-Director of Institute for Electrochemically Stored Energy. She is also Adjunct Faculty Member of Department of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering. A joint appointment is also held with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, (BNL), of whom Stony Brook is a member of the management team.

The masks were a range of commercially available N 95 products to a future mask material that Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Carbon Fiber Technology Facility could prepare. The material was characterised using various methods, including scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and X-ray Photoeletron Spectroscopy at BNL’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials(CFN).

Wetting properties of the mask materials were quantified by measurements of the contact angle with an artificial saliva. An airbrush was used to spray the surface functionalized metal oxide suspension in artificial saliva onto a target. BNL’s National Synchrotron Light Source-II, (NSLS-II) measured the amount of suspension that reached the target using x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy.

” Our goal was to find new ways to characterize mask materials and investigate the adsorptive qualities of the mask. We also wanted to consider the dispersion of virus droplets. Marschilok summarizes that the mechanism was designed to trap or adsorb suspended virus mimics rather than block it.

Marschilok and colleagues found that multiple types of mask materials functioned effectively under the test conditions. The researchers found that masks provide less protection against viruses when they are not used, even for longer distances. This further supports the protection of masks against viral exposure. The authors state that further research is needed to determine whether mask materials are stable over time and if they can be extended for protection against viruses.

The DOE’s Office of Science supported the study, with funding provided by the Coronavirus CARES Act, and method development for preparation of the functionalized COVID-19 virion mimic supported as part of the Center for Mesoscale Transport Properties. Both the CFN and NSLSII are DOE Office of Science User Facilities. The National Institutes of Health funded New York Consortium for the Advancement of Postdoctoral Scholars (IRACDA-NYCAPS) provided additional staff support.

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