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May 20, 2020

Protecting against COVID-19

As the pandemic rages on, it’s the first responders on the frontlines that are most at risk. A team of engineers at the University of Central Florida, and another at Northwestern University—both armed with National Science Foundation RAPID research grants—are each working to make masks and other gear more protective. First up, the team at Northwestern University is working on a way to develop a new self-sanitizing medical face mask that deactivates viruses on contact. The team, designated as essential researchers, is working night and day investigating anti-viral chemicals that can be safely built into masks to self-sanitize the droplets before they ever enter the atmosphere or land on objects and surfaces. The goal is to design a add-on solution that works for all types of masks to deactivate viruses. The mask would reduce the level of viruses in the droplets exhaled by infected wearers--better protecting healthcare workers and others around them. Next up is the team of engineers and virologists at the University of Central Florida. This team is working to create a protective coating that would include a novel mask material that would catch the virus and kill it within minutes. The team will create nanostructures that can capture the virus and then trigger a chemical reaction creating ultraviolet light to destroy it. If successful, the coating could be added to masks, gloves, and gowns-keeping healthcare providers safer on the COVID-19 frontlines. More examples of how NSF RAPID response research grants are critical to tackling urgent real- world problems. For more NSF COVID-19 information, visit us at

Credit: National Science Foundation

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