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Chamorro, colleagues engineering novel protective mask


Image from Saikat Basu, SDSU.
Image from Saikat Basu, SDSU.
Supported by the NSF Rapid Response Research funding mechanism, MechSE Associate Professor Leonardo P. Chamorro is working with Associate Professor Sunghwan Jung at Cornell University and Assistant Professor Saikat Basu at SDSU on a novel, highly-efficient, virus-preventive respirator mask inspired by nasal structures of animals with enhanced olfactory sensitivity.

Small aerosol droplets that can carry viruses will be captured from inhaled air by using a combination of copper-based filters and a bio-inspired tortuous passage with periodic thermal gradients induced by spiral copper wires. The aerosol capture will be articulated by modulating the dynamics of flow structures in the convoluted geometry (a vortex trap) and by thermophoresis action along the respirator’s internal walls (a thermal trap). Cyclic cold/hot temperature changes on the walls, along with ionic activity from the copper material, will be used to inactivate the trapped viruses.

The vortex trap is an animal-inspired, topologically complex air-transmission passage of the respirator. It promotes the formation of large-scale secondary flows, as well as large- and small-scale coherent vortices that result in localized flow separation, reduced velocity, and particulate attractors. These mechanisms allow implementing efficient engineering strategies for virus deactivation via heat and copper-based ionic processes.

The thermal trap of the respirator uses the thermophoresis effect where temperature gradient can drive sufficiently small particles towards cooler surfaces; it can be used as a complementary mechanism to collect particulates and viruses within the mask.  A comparatively cold wall attracts, and a hot wall repels tiny particulates.

The project will integrate the theoretical, experimental, and computational expertise of the principal investigators in optimizing the design for a new-age respirator, which can be radically more effective in preventing the transmission of COVID-19. By preventing nosocomial transmission, the product can also be a critical game-changer for the healthcare community. The team seeks collaboration with virology labs and pharmaceutical companies for detailed testing with live COVID samples and accelerated concept-to-product transition.