September 1, 2020

COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING

A researcher and his students have developed open source codes for a new mask and nose plug that use smart technology to respond to a wearer’s breathing. And the best part? Anyone with a 3D printer at home could make their own.

It’s a project the team started in early May as an effort to help the general public combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The masks and nose plugs are designed with an array of channels that include curved micropillars in each channel that move inward or outward as a person breathes.

“The objective of the project was to develop 3D printable smart masks and nose plugs to prevent onward transmission of coronavirus from patients,” says Yijie Jiang, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. “The ‘smartness’ of the technology derives from the designed curved micropillars, whose curvatures will change in response to a person’s respiration.”

Sophia Zoch, a current undergraduate student at UNT Engineering and Honors College, developed the designs for the masks and nose plugs in addition to running simulations and analysis on the microstructures.

“This has been a really great experience for me because I’ve been able to do real-world research, and I have learned how to conduct research remotely like many other students and professors,” says Zoch. “Dr. Jiang's micropillar channel design interested me the most as they are integral to the prevention of the onward transmission of COVID-19. With the channels, the mask and nose plugs have high virus trapping efficiency and allow for smooth inhalation.”

Graduate student Nava Raj Khatri also contributed to the effort by heading up the actual 3D printing of the mask and nose plug prototypes.

“Our focus right now is really on the mechanical side and making it possible for people to make their own masks and nose plugs that have a sort of smart functionality to them,” says Jiang. “Our next phase will include researching efficient ways to sanitize the masks and nose plugs with medical disinfectant as a person breathes.”

The fully customizable masks and nose plugs can be printed with at-home 3D printers from commercially available materials, like silicone.

“We really wanted to find a way to use our existing expertise to help our community during this pandemic, and providing a way for people to print their own masks and nose plugs was an easy decision for us,” says Jiang.

Print your own mask or nose plug from the team’s shared Google Drive.