Skip to main content
To KTH's start page To KTH's start page

Invisible face mask reduces the risk of airborne virus transmission

Graphic image with head and face protection.
The device creates a filtered airflow in front of the user's face, reducing the concentration of viruses in the air and therefore the risk of infection. (Photo: KTH)

Health in focus

Published Apr 09, 2024

During the COVID-19 pandemic, different types of respiratory masks were used as key elements in the fight against virus transmission. However, masks can be uncomfortable and hinder effective human communication. A new study led by Ricardo Vinuesa at KTH Royal Institute of Technology introduces an innovative solution with the potential to revolutionize preventive measures against the spread of airborne infection.

Imagine a cap with a built-in fan that blows air in front of your face. No, this isn't an April Fool's joke. It's the idea behind a new innovation. Using advanced simulations of how virus particles spread in the air, an international team of researchers has developed a simple and cost-effective solution that significantly reduces the risk of airborne virus transmission.

More effective than face masks

The concept is based on steering the airflow away from the user, resulting in a solution that outperforms physical face masks.

"Face masks and a distance of 2 meters are helpful, but actively directing the air with a high concentration of viruses downwards is even better. Our solution is not only more effective than masks, but also allows people to interact more comfortably", explains Ricardo Vinuesa .

As the device does not cover the entire face, it allows for better social interaction. This is incredibly valuable in healthcare environments such as operating theatres, where clear and fast communication is crucial. However, the applications of the device go far beyond limiting the spread of viruses. It can be used in diverse environments such as offices, schools, and public transport, providing protection for everyone from surgeons to people regularly exposed to dust and micro-particles.

Interdisciplinary collaboration

Ricardo Vinuesa, Photo: private

The innovation is the result of extensive, international collaboration. "The idea was born in dialogue with my engineering colleague Ramon Navarro, and further developed with experts in fluid mechanics and numerical simulations, leading to an improved design", says Vinuesa.

Using direct numerical simulation, the researchers studied the tool's effectiveness under certain conditions, such as the speed and direction of the airflow, the state of the environment, and even geometric factors.

Does the airflow affect the surrounding area?
"There are no negative effects on other people in the same room, even if they are not using the device."

Are there any remaining challenges?
"The main challenge from the manufacturing perspective is to find the right balance between the weight of batteries and fans and their effectiveness according to our technical parameters."

The research team is now conducting wind tunnel tests to further evaluate the tool's performance in real-world conditions. The next step is to attract the interest of potential investors. "We have developed several prototypes and have tested them. We are currently in the process of finding investors for larger-scale production."

Text: Marta Marko-Tisch 

Health in focus

How can we reduce ill health, prevent disease and improve care? Regardless of age and where we live in the world, wellbeing is a fundamental issue for humanity. In a series of articles, we provide some examples of research, innovations and new ways of thinking from KTH with a focus on health.

Belongs to: About KTH
Last changed: Apr 09, 2024