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Lakehead researcher looks for help on mask sterilizer prototype

Device uses UV lights to disinfect N95 masks in minutes

A Lakehead University chemical engineering professor has come up with a prototype to sterilize N95 masks using UV light.

Now Thunder Bay’s Dr. Siamak Elyasi is looking for help in bringing this device to life.

The associate professor believes this device could be used as a temporary stop-gap measure to protect health-care workers from COVID-19 in places where supplies of new masks have dwindled.

“In hospitals, they use UV radiation to disinfect the surface of everything in the surgery room,” Elyasi said in an April 27 news release from Lakehead.

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“It’s a normal practice. UV radiation is also used to disinfect water and wastewater. UV can inactivate microorganisms including viruses. UV was used for SARS and flu.”

Elyasi built the device using a 3D printer and readily available materials and supplies. The university gave him a $10,000 internal research grant to help fund the cost.

He hopes to create a larger one that can clean five to 10 masks at the same time. The device will include a timer for the UV light, meaning the user will not be exposed to the bulbs.

“Right now, it’s a simple prototype used to disinfect the surface of the mask inside and out for two masks at a time,” he said.

Elyasi believes his UV device could disinfect any type of mask in around 20 minutes, but is seeking other research collaborators who can test it to determine the correct dosage to kill COVID-19.

“I saw in some cases that health care personnel have had to use the same masks for one week,” he said. “Instead of wearing a mask for that long, every six hours they could put their masks in this device for disinfection.

“It’s much safer than not doing anything. It’s just for emergency cases, not for replacing new masks if they are available.”

One area where Elyasi believes this prototype could be a real benefit is in nursing homes.

“If they have problems with masks or don’t have enough, they could easily use this equipment.”