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ASU student team wins coronavirus face mask design challenge

(ASU Luminosity Lab team photo)

PHOENIX — A group of Arizona State University students won $500,000 in a face mask design competition aimed at overcoming common complaints about the protective wear.

As part of the university’s Luminosity Lab, the students participated in the XPRIZE Next-Gen Mask Challenge, which had contestants build a face mask that was comfortable, affordable, functional and even stylish.

“XPRIZE did a lot of background research and did surveys on the different issues that come with masks, from fogging your glasses to being too hot on your face, being hard to exercise in and being uncomfortable,” Luminosity Lab student researcher Katie Pascavis told KTAR News 92.3 FM. 

Pascavis said the group’s design employed a bifurcated chamber, in which air exhaled from the nose is kept in a separate chamber from the face and mouth.

“As we went on, we did our best to make this look like a regular mask that you would see out on the street,” Pascavis said.

“Just realizing that sometimes it takes a while to change social norms, not everyone likes to stand out in a crowd, so we like to call it the hidden features.”

Pascavis said the mask designed by the team fits better than a normal mask with elastic under the chin and has normal-looking elastic bands that go around the head.

The mask provides the same filtration efficiency as an N95 mask and protects people more than other masks while still looking stylish with the ability to change colors and style, according to Pascavis.

The students made it past the public-vote portion of the competition in late November and advanced to the final round of competition against five other teams, placing first and receiving the grand prize while two other teams received $250,000 each, according to Pascavis.

Pascavis and her team’s design beat nearly 1,000 entries in the competition from more than 70 countries around the world.

She said the team is working with XPRIZE, the community and the university to find out the best way to move the project forward, such as considering local business partnerships and potentially getting a manufacturer and a website up and running to distribute the masks.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Taylor Kinnerup contributed to this report.

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