Cornell Professor Creates Face Masks Inspired by Animal Noses That Can Be 'Printed' at Home

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It could be the most high-tech mask yet.

The topic of masks amid the coronavirus pandemic has been at the forefront of political and social conversations lately. While there was talk of shortages for medical professionals, companies have stepped up to create their own masks. Now, a multi-institution team has revealed a design that could be printed anywhere on a 3D printer. And the design was inspired by animal noses. 

Co-principal investigator and associate professor of biological and environmental engineering at Cornell, Sunghwan “Sunny” Jung, is responsible for the unique mask design. It will use a mesh material with copper, which kills viruses on contact. This is a marked difference from current masks where pathogens can live on the surface. 

Plus, the nasal passage of animals like dogs and rats were used to inspire the structure as they are efficient at capturing molecules. 


Courtesy Cornell University

“The air passageways in dogs, for example, branch to create many smaller air ducts; those passages are also tortuous, or maze-like,” it said on Cornell’s website. “These features create increased surface area and curvature to capture molecules and other particles on passage walls.”

So, the two designs will feature one with winding air passages and another that has branches into smaller airways. 

To top it off, the team wants to make these masks capable of being printed on a 3D printer. The design will be open source to allow for mass and personal production. “The current COVID19 outbreak shows there is a national shortage of medical masks,” said Jung. “We need to be more flexible. Our mask will use the 3D printer – and at this time, a lot of people have a 3D printer at home.”

The project is thanks to the team being awarded a $200,0000 RAPID grant ($75,000 of which goes towards the mask design). It’s expected to be completed in 10 months.