TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) has developed an accessible way to make N95 face masks that are on-contact germ killers. The antiviral, antibacterial masks can also potentially be worn longer, causing less plastic waste as the masks do not need to be replaced as frequently as regular face masks.

Helen Zha, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, and Edmund Palermo, associate professor of materials science and engineering at RPI, collaborated to fight infectious respiratory disease and environmental pollution with improved face masks. Zha and Palermo, along with other researchers from Rensselaer, Michigan Technological Institute, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, attached antimicrobial polymers to the fiber surfaces of nonwoven polypropylene fabrics using ultraviolet (UV)-initiated grafting.

In research recently published in Applied ACS Materials and Interfaces, the team successfully grafted broad-spectrum antimicrobial polymers onto the polypropylene filters used in N95 face masks. Palermo believes that this may also help reduce the transmission of airborne pathogens in general.

The team only used UV light and acetone in their process to make it easy to implement. On top of that, RPI says that the process can be applied to already manufactured polypropylene filters, rather than producing new ones. 

Users could wear an unaltered N95 mask along with another (polypropylene) layer with the antimicrobial polymer on top. In the future, RPI says manufacturers could make a mask with the antimicrobial polymer incorporated into the top layer.