The science shows that face masks are a key tool in mitigating the COVID crisis. But their effectiveness depends in part on how well they fit, and it can be hard to tell if you have done it right when you put it on. A new mask helps you know, by using sensors that send data to a smartphone app that change the color of heat-sensitive dots when the mask is properly positioned.
“When you put on the mask, if the edge is in contact with the skin, you will have that temperature change indicating that you have contact,” says Giovanni Traverso, a gastroenterologist and biomedical engineer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and professor at MIT who is part of a team that developed the new respirator. “If not, then there won’t be that color change, and you can tell immediately.”
The feature is one part of the latest iteration of the mask, which the researchers began developing for healthcare workers early in the pandemic as they saw colleagues struggle with multiple challenges with standard N95 masks. “We recognized that there was a shortage, and then we also recognized that there was a tremendous amount of waste accumulating,” he says. They also saw that N95 masks were often uncomfortable to wear, and because they block someone’s mouth, made communication difficult for some patients.