Award winning Nguyen Duc Thanh, 37, and his research team, Nguyen Lab, used autolytic piezoelectric polymer sheets, which has been studied by themselves and applied in organ transplantation since 2018, to make a special type of facemask.
The invention was launched to meet the urgent need in the US last year.
Most medical masks are made of synthetic polymers similar to plastic bags which are unable to self dispose and pose a major hazard to the environment. Medical masks are unable to prevent bacteria, viruses and fine dust like KN95 or N95 masks. Meanwhile, N95 masks are very expensive and can be used only one time, Dr Thanh said.
Thanh’s team came up with the idea of using the autolytic piezoelectric polymer sheets that can filter the dust as effectively as N95 but can be reused after sterilising by autoclave or ultrasound. It is disposable after several years.
Although the sheet has been applied in many medical products, this was the first time it has been used filtering dust, viruses and bacteria.
Thanh said what made his masks different from others was the piezoelectric effect of the nano film. The film can create a small voltage layer when there is air flow (from breathing, sneezing or coughing).
The voltage creates an invisible protection layer, preventing the penetration of charged droplets of water bringing viruses and bacteria.
“The polymer nano film’s filtering capacity is almost as much as N95 and higher than normal medical face masks,” he said.
The team is doing further research and packaging the product and plans to launch a start-up to bring the face masks to the market.
“It is expected that the face masks will be used widely in one to two years time,” Thanh told vietnamnet.vn.
After sterilisation or disinfection using high temperatures and pressure or ultrasonic vibrations, the piezoelectricity won’t be lost.
"This feature allows the masks to be reused for many times," he added.
Thanh’s research team is also studying a vaccine patch that can be applied to skin that helps deliver COVID-19 vaccines into the human body without infections from medical workers.
The patch, like urgo patches, is expected to distribute the vaccine to the community so quickly that people no longer have to visit medical facilities during the lockdown.
The research has been published in the medical journal Nature Biomedical Engineering and attracted the attention of international scientists.
“I believe that the pandemic will soon be wiped out globally thanks to great medical achievements like COVID-19 vaccine and public awareness of wearing face masks," Thanh said.
"I hope that I will be able to make a contribution to that effort,”
Dr. Thanh graduated from the Hanoi University of Technology and received a PhD scholarship from the Vietnam-US Education Fund in 2008. He completed his doctoral thesis in 2013 at the Princeton University.
After that, he worked at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was appointed by Connecticut University as the assistant professor, lecturer of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and the Faculty of Biomedical Engineering.
Thanh is leading a research group in biomedical technology and biomedical materials at the university. The team conducts multidisciplinary research, focusing on medical applications, related to a wide range of fields including biomaterials, pharmaceuticals, vaccines, nanotechnology, regenerative medicine and engineering, and medical electronics.
Thanh has received a number of prestigious awards, including the National Institutes of Health’s Trailblazer Award for Young and Early Investigator in 2017, 2018 SME Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer Award, top 10 inventors under 35 years old in the Asia-Pacific region voted by MIT, top 10 exemplary young Vietnamese faces in 2019.