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Engineers design a reusable, silicone rubber face mask

The prototype mask, which includes an N95 filter, can be easily sterilized and worn many times.
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Researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have designed a new silicone rubber face mask that they believe could stop viral particles as effectively as N95 masks. Unlike N95 masks, the new masks can be easily sterilized and used many times. This image shows photos of the mask (A and B) and the steps needed to clean and reuse the mask.
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Caption: Researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have designed a new silicone rubber face mask that they believe could stop viral particles as effectively as N95 masks. Unlike N95 masks, the new masks can be easily sterilized and used many times. This image shows photos of the mask (A and B) and the steps needed to clean and reuse the mask.
Credits: Courtesy of the researchers
The masks are based on the shape of the 3M 1860 style of N95 masks, the type normally used at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Most of the mask is made of silicone rubber, and there is also space for one or two N95 filters. Those filters are designed to be replaced after every use, while the rest of the mask can be sterilized and reused. This image shows a photo of the mask on a mannequin head.
Download Image
Caption: The masks are based on the shape of the 3M 1860 style of N95 masks, the type normally used at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Most of the mask is made of silicone rubber, and there is also space for one or two N95 filters. Those filters are designed to be replaced after every use, while the rest of the mask can be sterilized and reused. This image shows a photo of the mask on a mannequin head.
Credits: Courtesy of the researchers

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Researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have designed a silicone rubber face mask that they believe could stop viral particles as effectively as N95 masks. The masks are based on the shape of the 3M 1860 style of N95 masks normally used at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Most of the mask is silicone rubber, and there is space for one or two N95 filters, which are designed to be repla...
Caption:
Researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have designed a silicone rubber face mask that they believe could stop viral particles as effectively as N95 masks. The masks are based on the shape of the 3M 1860 style of N95 masks normally used at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Most of the mask is silicone rubber, and there is space for one or two N95 filters, which are designed to be replaced after every use, while the rest of the mask can be sterilized and reused. This image shows the mask on a mannequin head.
Credits:
Courtesy of the researchers
Unlike N95 masks, the new masks can be easily sterilized and used many times. This image shows photos of the mask (A and B) and the steps needed to clean and reuse the mask.
Caption:
Unlike N95 masks, the new masks can be easily sterilized and used many times. This image shows photos of the mask (A and B) and the steps needed to clean and reuse the mask.
Credits:
Courtesy of the researchers

Researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have designed a new face mask that they believe could stop viral particles as effectively as N95 masks. Unlike N95 masks, the new masks were designed to be easily sterilized and used many times.

As the number of new Covid-19 cases in the United States continues to rise, there is still an urgent need for N95 masks for health care workers and others. The new mask is made of durable silicone rubber and can be manufactured using injection molding, which is widely used in factories around the world. The mask also includes an N95 filter, but it requires much less N95 material than a traditional N95 mask. 

“One of the key things we recognized early on was that in order to help meet the demand, we needed to really restrict ourselves to methods that could scale,” says Giovanni Traverso, an MIT assistant professor of mechanical engineering and a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “We also wanted to maximize the reusability of the system, and we wanted systems that could be sterilized in many different ways.”

The team is now working on a second version of the mask, based on feedback from health care workers, and is working to establish a company to support scaled-up production and seek approval from the FDA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Traverso is the senior author of a paper describing the new masks, which appears today in the British Medical Journal Open. The lead authors of the study are James Byrne, a radiation oncologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and research affiliate at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research; Adam Wentworth, a research engineer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a research affiliate at the Koch Institute; Peter Chai, an emergency medicine physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; and Hen-Wei Huang, a research fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a postdoc at the Koch Institute.

Easy sterilization

The N95 masks that health care workers wear to protect against exposure to SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses are made from polypropylene fibers that are specially designed to filter out tiny viral particles. Ideally, a health care worker would switch to a new mask each time they see a different patient, but shortages of these masks have forced doctors and nurses to wear them for longer than they are meant to be worn.

In recent months, many hospitals have begun sterilizing N95 masks with hydrogen peroxide vapor, which can be used up to 20 times on a single mask. However, this process requires specialized equipment that is not available everywhere, and even with this process, one mask can be worn for only a single day.

The MIT/BWH team set out to design a mask that could be safely sterilized and reused many times. They decide on silicone rubber — the material that goes into silicone baking sheets, among other products — because it is so durable. Liquid silicone rubber can be easily molded into any shape using injection molding, a highly automated process that generates products rapidly.

The masks are based on the shape of the 3M 1860 style of N95 masks, the type normally used at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Most of the mask is made of silicone rubber, and there is also space for one or two N95 filters. Those filters are designed to be replaced after every use, while the rest of the mask can be sterilized and reused.

“With this design, the filters can be popped in and then thrown away after use, and you’re throwing away a lot less material than an N95 mask,” Wentworth says.

The researchers tested several different sterilization methods on the silicone masks, including running them through an autoclave (steam sterilizer), putting them in an oven, and soaking them in bleach and in isopropyl alcohol. They found that after sterilization, the silicone material was undamaged.

Fit test

To test the comfort and fit of the masks, the researchers recruited about 20 health care workers from the emergency department and an oncology clinic at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. They had each of the subjects perform the standard fit test that is required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for N95 masks. During this test, the subject puts the mask on and then performs a series of movements to see if the mask stays in place. A nebulized sugar solution is sprayed in the room, and if the subject can taste or smell it, it means the mask is not properly fitted.

All 20 subjects passed the fit test, and they reported that they were able to successfully insert and remove the N95 filter. When asked their preference between the new mask, a typical N95 mask, and a standard surgical mask, most either said they had no preference or preferred the new silicone mask, Byrne says. They also gave the new mask high ratings for fit and breathability.

The researchers are now working on a second version of the mask, which they hope to make more comfortable and durable. They also plan to do additional lab tests measuring the masks’ ability to filter viral particles.

As many regions of the United States have seen a surge in Covid-19 cases over the past month, hospitals in those areas face the possibility of mask shortages. There is also a need for more masks in parts of the world that don’t have the equipment needed for hydrogen peroxide sterilization.

“We know that Covid is really not going away until a vaccine is prevalent,” Byrne says. “I think there’s always going to be a need for masks, whether it be in the health care setting or in the general public.”

The research was funded, in part, by the Prostate Cancer Foundation, the MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the National Institutes of Health, E-Ink Corporation, Gilead Sciences, Philips Biosensing, and the Hans and Mavis Lopater Psychosocial Foundation.

Press Mentions

CNN

Reporting for CNN, Scottie Andrew highlights how researchers from MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital developed the iMASC, a silicon mask that can be reused and sterilized multiple times. Andrew notes that the mask is “a promising step toward addressing the critical healthcare supply shortages.”

CNBC

CNBC reporter Cory Stieg writes about how researchers from MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital created a new reusable silicon mask with slots for small disposable N95 filters. “The masks themselves can be quickly and easily sterilized and reused, and though the small filters must be thrown out, each mask requires much less N95 material,” writes Stieg.

Fast Company

Fast Company reporter Adele Peters writes that researchers from MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have developed a new face mask that is made of silicon and designed to be reused and sterilized repeatedly. “We wanted to have a system that could be accessible and used by anyone globally,” says Prof. Giovanni Traverso

CBS Boston

Prof. Giovanni Traverso speaks with CBS Boston about a new silicon mask with N95 filters that can be reused and sterilized. “We recognize that not everybody has the sophisticated sterilization equipment but we also recognize that many folks around the world would have access to some kind of an oven or perhaps a solution of chlorine,” says Traverso.

WHDH 7

Researchers from MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have designed a new reusable face mask outfitted with N95 filters that can be sterilized, reports WHDH.

United Press International (UPI)

UPI reporter Sommer Brokaw writes that researchers from MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have created a new reusable silicon face mask with N95 filters. “The new masks have space for one or two N95 filters to be replaced after each use, and the rest of the rubber mask itself can be sterilized and reused many times,” writes Brokaw.

Boston Globe

Researchers from MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have developed a new silicon mask with N95 filters that can be sterilized and reused, reports Martin Finucane for The Boston Globe. “The mask is made of silicone rubber and includes one or two detachable N95 filters, but those filters require much less N95 material than a traditional N95 mask,” writes Finucane.

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