Ep 100 | Dr Peter Tsai N95 Mask Inventor: The Man Who Created the Technology

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A note from Talking Taiwan host Felicia Lin:

Dr. Peter Tsai is the Taiwanese American inventor of the technology behind the N95 mask, the piece of personal protective equipment that has become such a part of our everyday vernacular since the onset of the global Coronavirus pandemic. With the shortage of N95 respirators at the beginning of the pandemic, Dr. Tsai was called out of retirement to figure out how to sterilize N95s for reuse, and to help scale up production of the masks. In part one of my interview with him he talks about his roots and early career. Dr. Tsai also explains how the technology behind the material of N95s works, offers some suggestions on how to make more protective D.I.Y. masks, and why everyone should wear masks.

Next week we’ll be sharing part two of my interview with Dr. Tsai next week, in which he talks about how he was called out of retirement and what has happened since.

Here’s a little preview of what we talked about in this podcast episode:

  • What it was like growing up as one of 10 children
  • One of his early childhood inventions
  • Why he decided to pursue further studies in the United States
  • What it was like when he first arrived in the U.S. and what his expectations were
  • The biggest challenge Dr. Tsai faced when first arriving in the U.S.
  • The tough decision that Dr. Tsai had to make about his two daughters while he was still working on obtaining his PhD degree
  • When and how Dr. Tsai started working on the material that is now used for the N95 mask
  • How adding an electrostatic charge to fibers improves their filtration efficiency
  • How the “corona charge” (yes, the same word “corona” but different in meaning from the Coronavirus “corona”) when added to microfibers improves filtration efficiency by 10 times
  • The first use of this charged fabric technology was for air filtration in 1992
  • In 1995 the U.S. was set to issue new standards for respirators, which is now called the N95
  • The 95 of “N95” mask refers to the fact that it needs to filter out 95% of submicron particles
  • How the science behind charging fibers works
  • The misconception that the size of a fabric’s pores need to be smaller than particles to block them
  • Electrostatic charged media is good material for respirators
  • The comparison between cloth masks (which are made of woven material) and N95 masks (which are made of nonwoven material)
  • Cloth masks with higher filtration efficiency must be compactly woven, thicker or higher weight
  • How cloth masks are good shields to contain the virus inside a mask avoid infecting others
  • Cloth masks are not ideal but they can contain the spread of the virus to others
  • Dr. Tsai’s recommendations regarding wearing cloth masks
  • The most commonly found types of nonwoven materials that can be used as a filter for a D.I.Y. mask
  • How to test if a fabric is hydrophobic
  • How a MERV 14 home use filter (typically used for air filters) is electrostatically charged and hydrophobic and good to use as a filter for a D.I.Y. mask
  • Dr. Tsai explains why he thinks everyone needs to wear a mask (whether its cloth or N95)
  • How Dr. Tsai is working on making high filtration efficiency materials more breathable
  • Research on the material used for the N95 mask began in 1987, then in 1992 the technology used for the N95 mask was first developed
  • The material has been improved from 1992-2018
  • How Dr. Tsai is motivated to innovate by the changing needs of the industry

Related Links:

TaiwaneseAmerican.org article about Dr. Peter Tsai, “Our Dad Invented the N95 Mask: Our Taiwanese American Story”:

http://www.taiwaneseamerican.org/2020/09/peter-tsai-n95-inventor/

Washington Post article about Dr. Peter Tsai, “The retired inventor of N95 masks is back at work, mostly for free, to fight covid-19”: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2020/07/07/peter-tsai-n95-mask-covid/

NBC News article about Dr. Peter Tsai, “Taiwanese immigrant who invented N95 mask on working amid COVID-19 racism”: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/taiwanese-immigrant-who-invented-n95-mask-working-amid-covid-19-n1233777

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