Aberdeen scientists working on tech to improve COVID-19 masks

Scientists from the University of Aberdeen are developing a new type of protective face mask that may be more effective against the spread of COVID-19.

A team from the Scottish higher education institute’s School of Engineering and Institute of Medical Sciences are working with microfluidics technology – also called ‘lab-on-a-chip’ tech –  to produce a new nanomaterial that can offer improved protection for wearers by acting as a more robust barrier to transmission. This type of technology is also used to study how COVID-19 can be spread through aerosol particles when breathing.

For this latest project, microfibres containing silver nanoparticles will be tested to see how effective they are at trapping the virus. It’s believed silver nanoparticles also offer antimicrobial and antiviral properties.

But scientists will first have to develop a ‘new experimental microfluidic device’ with ‘micrometre-sized chambers and channels’ that will allow them to test and prepare the new nanomaterials, according to the University.

A multidisciplinary team of researchers will collaborate on the study, which is being funded by the NHS Grampian Endowment Research Grant, and also work in partnership with UK-based lab equipment supplier, Specac Ltd.

Research co-lead Dr Alf Martinez-Felipe, said: “There are several challenges regarding the development of efficient masks, such as the ability to reuse them safely, or the deactivation of the virus in the masks to avoid further propagation by misuse.

“The aim of this project is to prepare new materials to increase the efficiency of face masks, turning them into active barriers for COVID-19.

“To do that we will prepare new silver nanoparticles embedded in microfibres, which will retain the aerosols containing COVID-19, and we will also measure the therapeutic potential of the materials by using the antiviral potential of silver nanoparticles.

“The key to doing this is our development of a new, versatile microfluidic device to test the effectiveness of these materials, which we will optimise using experimental and computational models.  Microfluidics is regarded as a game-changing technology in terms of research into new nanomaterials, and we are very excited about the potential of this project.”

Dr Claudiu Giuraniuc, also one of the project co-leads, added: “We expect that our findings will open new avenues for research, and ultimately lead to the introduction of new and more effective materials for use in the mass production of commercial face masks.”