N95 Mask Shortage Brings Inventor Out Of Retirement In Search Of Safe Reuse Method : Coronavirus Updates Health care workers in short supply are reusing N95 masks amid the pandemic. Peter Tsai, who developed its virus-blocking filter, is trying to find a disinfection method that doesn't degrade the mask.

N95 Mask Shortage Brings Inventor Out Of Retirement In Search Of Safe Reuse Method

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We called the man whose scientific research made possible the N95 mask, considered the safest mask for the pandemic.

PETER TSAI: I developed the technology in 1992.


Peter Tsai invented the special filters on the masks that block out viral particles.

TSAI: My invention was to just improve the air filter. This is just a very convenient invention, not a very special invention.

MARTIN: The mask is special, though, and hospitals are running out, so Tsai came out of retirement.

TSAI: Researchers - they call me and are sending me emails.

INSKEEP: Hundreds of emails, says Janis Terpenny of the University of Tennessee, who asked Tsai to help solve a problem.

JANIS TERPENNY: How could the masks be cleaned and sterilized and reused?

MARTIN: N95s are designed for one-time use.

TSAI: You know, you cannot use alcohol to sterilize the masks.

MARTIN: So Tsai is studying other ways to disinfect this technology.

INSKEEP: To colleagues like Maha Krishnamurthy, he's a rock star.

MAHA KRISHNAMURTHY: I told Peter, you seem to be the man of the hour. And he said, no, I'm man of the minute.

INSKEEP: Not that Tsai is seeking attention.

TSAI: I did not expect to be (laughter) popular. I just want to help people, and I just do my job.

INSKEEP: A job he's still doing in this crisis.


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