Engineering and public health collaboration leads to NSF RAPID grant on PPE materials which capture and kill pathogens

Engineers at the University of Iowa and the University Notre Dame are collaborating with a UI College of Public Health faculty member to develop personal protective equipment (PPE) that captures and kills viral pathogens, thereby improving PPE performance and reusability during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their work as led to a new one-year, $200,000 NSF RAPID grant.

The work leverages over a decade of collaboration on projects related to the use of a fabrication process called electrospinning to produce nanoengineered, multi-functional filtration materials for water treatment. The team is adapting its approach to making water filters and turning turn them into materials suitable for PPE. By integrating biocidal materials, the team aims to produce a composite nanofiber filter that will be able to capture and kill aerosolized virus in a lightweight, breathable framework suitable for integration into PPE like masks and respirators.

“This is a fantastic interdisciplinary research team blending expertise in materials science, engineering, nanotechnology and microbiology,” said David Cwiertny, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination, who is the lead researcher on the project. “Not only are we using engineering technology, but the team also includes expertise in the efficacy of respirators and related protective equipment from an industrial hygienist in the UI College of Public Health. The group is ideally suited for producing this next generation of PPE.”

The University of Iowa is the lead institution on the grant and the project will be directed by Cwiertny. At the UI, Cwiertny will collaborate with Patrick O'Shaughnessy, a professor in the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, who serves as director of the UI Heartland Center for Occupational Health and Safety and the director of the Environmental Modeling and Exposure Assessment Facility. Collaborators at Notre Dame include Nosang Myung, a professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Kyle Bibby, the Wanzek Collegiate Chair in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences. 

mask prototype