N95 Respirator Mask Design & Fabrication

Welcome to the second edition of “Under the Microscope,” where we speak with an investigator from a different Jump ARCHES project in each feature. In this feature, we’re speaking with Jeremy Guest, co-principal investigator of a proposal to design and fabricate N95 respirator masks. This project was funded by the 2020 Jump ARCHES Priority Call for proposals to address COVID-19 and other pandemics. Read about the rest of the funded projects here.

Give us a brief summary of your project and what prompted you to undertake this research:

The goal of this project is to leverage the collective resources and expertise of the University of Illinois, OSF HealthCare, Carle Foundation Hospital, ShapeMaster Inc., and other local groups to respond to the urgent and sustained need for N95 respirators amid the COVID-19 pandemic. My team is working to develop a clear, NIOSH-compliant N95 respirator that, with filter cartridge replacement, can be sanitized and reused for weeks.

There was clearly a pressing need for PPE for healthcare workers in the early stages of the pandemic, but there was no clear indication that supply chains would be able to recover in time to keep up with sustained demand. We began this project with the intent of diversifying the portfolio of solutions that healthcare providers could use to protect their staff. As director of the Environmental Engineering and Science Laboratories in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at U of I, I had been looking for ways to contribute by, for example, inventorying available PPE in our laboratories. When U of I began to organize the I-PPE Initiative, I was glad to become involved and help lead a committed, collaborative, and energetic team to work toward a reusable N95 respirator and reusable face shield.

Who are your collaborators and how did you decide to work with them?

The Co-PIs for this project from OSF HealthCare are Jared C. Rogers, M.D., who is Regional President of OSF HealthCare Heart of Mary Medical Center and John. F. Kreckman, M.D., who is the Chief Medical Officer and VP of Medical Affairs at OSF HealthCare Heart of Mary Medical Center. We’ve also worked closely with Brent Cross at Jump Simulation Center and received feedback from Wendy Ash of OSF. We’re now working with Michelle Brownfield at OSF Heart of Mary Medical Center to do the fit testing. Some other key collaborators from U of I include Professor Helen Nguyen (I-PPE lead), Lisa Bievenue, Professor Vishal Verma, Professor Shelly Zhang, Professor Roland Cusick, Professor Kesh Kesavadas, and more than a dozen others. Ken Cooley from ShapeMaster in Ogden, IL has been critical in fabrication and prototyping. Professor James Guest from Johns Hopkins University and Michael Aref, Matt Ashmore, and William Scott from Carle contributed substantively as well.

What’s the current status of the project and how do you see it progressing in the future?

We have developed prototypes in collaboration with ShapeMaster, Inc. in Ogden, IL, and with one component made by TEKMILL in Champaign. We’ve done a quantitative fit test at Carle Foundation Hospital, where our N95 prototype outperformed disposable N95s for fit and seal. We will be doing fit testing at OSF Heart of Mary Medical Center in Urbana this month, and after that we’ll make some minor modifications to the design, fabricate more prototypes, and proceed with additional testing including NIOSH filtration testing at a certified laboratory. The long-term goal is to enable companies to manufacture this from the open-source designs we’ll post online. OSF plans to prototype the design and test in their facilities. Our hope is that we can develop a design that passes fit tests, meets NIOSH N95 performance guidelines, and helps to expand the portfolio of potential solutions healthcare systems could leverage to protect their staff. The fact that its reusable would reduce demand overall.