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The RPI Podcast Kicks Off New Season With a Deep Dive Into Self-Disinfecting Masks

The RPI Podcast Kicks Off New Season With a Deep Dive Into Self-Disinfecting Masks

By Reeve Hamilton

October 7, 2020

The third season of Why Not Change the World? The RPI Podcast kicks off this week with a deep dive on a research project aimed at making self-disinfecting masks — an urgent need in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

With the support of a National Science Foundation Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grant, two Rensselaer researchers are examining ways to equip N95 respirator masks with antiviral properties and the ability to withstand sterilization. These improvements would better protect health care workers and enable the current supply of masks to last longer.

This research effort is a collaboration between Helen Zha, an assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering and a member of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies at Rensselaer (CBIS), and Edmund Palermo, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering and a member of the Rensselaer Center for Materials, Devices, and Integrated Systems (cMDIS). Due to the ongoing pandemic, Zha and Palermo were both interviewed remotely for the episode.

Zha’s expertise in making ultrathin protein and polymer coatings on surfaces, combined with Palermo’s expertise in antimicrobial polymers, form an ideal partnership for this investigation, which is a more complex challenge than some may realize. The researchers must determine what readily available, nontoxic polymers could deactivate viruses like the one that causes COVID-19, increase the mask’s barrier to the virus, and maintain the protective properties of the mask through sterilization — all while preserving breathability.

Listen now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, SoundCloud, Google Play Music, or TuneIn.


Reeve Hamilton
Director of Media Relations and Communications

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About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America’s first technological research university. Rensselaer encompasses five schools, 32 research centers, more than 145 academic programs, and a dynamic community made up of more than 7,600 students and more than 100,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include more than 145 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration.