Ilaria Rubino is shown in this undated handout image at University of Alberta. Alberta researcher Rubino has developed technology allowing mostly salt to kill pathogens in COVID-19 droplets as they land on a mask. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-University of Alberta

Ilaria Rubino is shown in this undated handout image at University of Alberta. Alberta researcher Rubino has developed technology allowing mostly salt to kill pathogens in COVID-19 droplets as they land on a mask. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-University of Alberta

Alberta researcher gets award for COVID-19 mask innovation

The salt-coated mask is expected to be available commercially next year after regulatory approval.

Salt that crystallizes with sharp edges is the killer ingredient in the development of a reusable mask because any COVID-19 droplets that land on it would be quickly destroyed, says a researcher who is being recognized for her innovation.

Ilaria Rubino, a recent PhD graduate from the department of chemical and materials engineering at the University of Alberta, said a mostly salt and water solution that coats the first or middle layer of the mask would dissolve droplets before they can penetrate the face covering.

As the liquid from the droplets evaporates, the salt crystals grow back as spiky weapons, damaging the bacteria or virus within five minutes, Rubino said.

“We know that after the pathogens are collected in the mask, they can survive. Our goal was to develop a technology that is able to inactivate the pathogens upon contact so that we can make the mask as effective as possible.”

Rubino, who collaborated with a researcher at Georgia State University in Atlanta to advance the project she started five years ago, was recognized Tuesday with an innovation award from Mitacs. The Canadian not-for-profit organization receives funding from the federal government, most provinces and Yukon to honour researchers from academic institutions.

The reusable, non-washable mask is made of a type of polypropylene, a plastic used in surgical masks, and could be safely worn and handled multiple times without being decontaminated, Rubino said.

The idea is to replace surgical masks often worn by health-care workers who must dispose of them in a few hours, she said, adding the technology could potentially be used for N-95 respirators.

The salt-coated mask is expected to be available commercially next year after regulatory approval. It could also be used to stop the spread of other infectious illnesses, such as influenza, Rubino said.

Dr. Catherine Clase, an epidemiologist and associate professor of medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, said the “exciting” technology would have multiple benefits.

Clase, who is a member of the Centre of Excellence in Protective Equipment and Materials in the engineering department at McMaster, said there wasn’t much research in personal protective equipment when Rubino began her work.

“It’s going to decrease the footprint for making and distributing and then disposing of every mask,” she said, adding that the mask could also address any supply issues.

The Public Health Agency of Canada recently recommended homemade masks consist of at least three layers, with a middle, removable layer constructed from a non-woven, washable polypropylene fabric to improve filtration.

Conor Ruzycki, an aerosol scientist in the University of Alberta’s mechanical engineering department, said Rubino’s innovation adds to more recent research on masks as COVID-19 cases rise and shortages of face coverings in the health-care system could again become a problem.

Ruzycki, who works in a lab to evaluate infiltration efficiencies of different materials for masks and respirators, is also a member of a physician-led Alberta group Masks4Canada, which is calling for stricter pandemic measures, including a provincewide policy on mandatory masks.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Rogers Creek Trail main trailhead is located on the Redford Extension in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Hiker rescued after cold few hours in the bush outside Port Alberni

Alberni Valley Rescue Squad said they receive frequent calls for people lost on this trail

Helma Swinkels, left, from Bibi J’s is all smiles as she makes her first donation under the new business name to Ellen Frood from Alberni Community and Women’s Services (ACAWS). In 18 sales days, Swinkels was able to donate $3,000 to the transition house. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Bibi J’s in Port Alberni makes first donation to non-profit

Alberni Women and Community Services to benefit

Alberta premier Jason Kenney announced that Red Deer and other rural locations would soon be getting doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. (photography by Paul Taillon/Office of the Premier)
EDITORIAL: Leading by example

Those in leadership roles need to follow the restrictions they impose on others

Melissa Martin from the Rollin Art Centre holds two paintings from the Rollin Art Centre’s permanent collection: an original portrait painted by the late Robert Aller, and a mixed media piece called ‘House’ from Peggy Larson that was part of Aller’s private collection. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
ARTS AROUND: Rollin Art Centre to re-open February 2

Newest exhibit will feature some pieces from permanent collection

Rik Abel has opened Rik’s Picks, a vintage record shop on Johnston Road. (TERESA BIRD / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
BIZ BEAT: Port Alberni businesses get innovative during pandemic

See what’s new in the Port Alberni business community

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

A suspect has been arrested in connection with fires at Drinkwater Elementary (pictured) and École Mount Prevost. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Arson suspect arrested after fires at Cowichan Valley schools

Drinkwater Elementary and Mount Prevost schools hit within a week

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Nanaimo RCMP are seeking the public’s help after a man allegedly assaulted a clerk at James General Store on Victoria Road on Jan. 18. (Submitted photo)
Suspect screams at customer then assaults store clerk in Nanaimo

RCMP asking for information about Jan. 18 incident at James General Store

Chartwell Malaspina Care Residence in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file photo)
Two Nanaimo care-home residents have died during COVID-19 outbreak

Death reported Monday was the second related to Chartwell Malaspina outbreak, says Island Health

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Rod Bitten of Union Bay won $500,000 in the Lotto Max draw on Jan. 15. Photo supplied
Vancouver Island electrician gets shocking surprise with $500K Extra win

Rod Bitten has been hard at work with home renovations, which is… Continue reading

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Oyster River Fire Rescue members were called out to a suspicious fire in Black Creek. Two vehicles parked at a private residence were destroyed by fire. Photo courtesy Oyster River Fire Rescue
Suspicious fire destroys two vehicles at Vancouver Island residence

Oyster River Fire Rescue personnel were dispatched to a fire at a… Continue reading

Most Read