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Show face. A transparent mask for easier bedside manner

Many countries currently require that masks be worn to protect against COVID-19 infections. The residents of these countries are now finding out how strange it is to speak with people who only have half their face visible. Voices are muffled and facial expressions are difficult to decode, if they can be at all. Face masks make communication even more difficult when dealing with children, the elderly or the hearing-impaired. Researchers at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) and École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have now jointly developed fully transparent surgical masks to improve the relationship between nursing staff and patients. The HelloMask is intended to replace the three-ply mask typically worn by medical personnel that has become omnipresent in public life since the pandemic. Two years of joint research were required to find a balance between transparency, durability and porosity. The result is a fine membrane manufactured by electrospinning a polymer developed especially for this type of use. The positioning of the fibres leaves tiny gaps in between that let in air while blocking viruses and bacteria. To ensure optimal protection, the new masks made 99% from biomass derivatives are intended for one-time use. The material for the mask made of organic polymers has now become available. In addition, the HMCARE start-up was recently established and has already received one million Swiss francs in grants, letting it transition to the production stage. The masks, which are intended primarily for use in medical settings, will be marketed from early 2021. HMCARE has not ruled out offering them to the wider public during a second stage.

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