Israeli researchers develop invisible face mask

Science and Health

Face masks protect their wearers from life-threatening respiratory infections of all kinds. However, they also pose harmful psychological effects, such as reducing facial identification and emotion recognition, making it difficult for people to understand what those who wear them are saying.

Wearing masks throughout the workday also results in a lack of focus, as well as reduced attention and patience in a wide range of professions. There is also a reduction in physiological oral communication, along with physiological effects such as headaches and skin problems.

As a result of these difficulties, many people wear masks incorrectly – on or below their mouths – which greatly reduces protection. Even in Japan, where face masks are common, a large study found that just 20% of people wear masks correctly.

Conventional face masks have also led to a dramatic rise in plastic waste, exacerbated by governmental mask-wearing mandates, producing millions of tons annually.

In a breakthrough that will save lives and also help protect the environment, researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa have developed a revolutionary invisible face mask to protect wearers against the transmission of COVID, MERS, influenza and other respiratory viruses.

An invisible air screen instead of a face mask

The team, led by Prof. Moshe Shoham and Prof. David Greenblatt, invented a radically new solution to the conventional mask dilemma by creating an invisible “air screen” in front of the wearer’s face. The air screen originates from within a lightweight filter-covered unit mounted on the visor of a cap. Several major advantages became clear: The air screen protects the eyes, nose and mouth without reducing facial identity, emotion recognition or oral communication. The air screen is also reusable, so it doesn’t pollute the environment like the plastic throw-away ones used around the world.

Recently published research based on experiments conducted in Greenblatt’s laboratory proved the air screen’s efficacy by effectively blocking aerosols produced during oral communication, as well as large droplets produced by coughing and sneezing. It also removes inactive aerosol-laden air from in front of the face by a process known as “entrainment.”

A video released by the university shows how laser illumination is used to make the airflow visible. David Keisar and Anan Garzozi, students in the Nancy and Stephen Grand Technion Energy Program, were instrumental in conducting and analyzing the experimental data and in developing a theoretical physics-based mathematical model of the air screen.

Several one-on-one interviews and pilot studies with more than 50 subjects from various sectors – including older adults and their caretakers in nursing homes; university professors and their students; close-proximity workers including tutors, physiotherapists and psychologists, retail workers in stores and offices, and hi-tech management teams and board members who participate in long meetings indoors – clearly showed the advantage of the invisible air screen over the commonly used face masks. These groups represent potential early users of the new technology who will benefit most from this invention in Israel and globally.

The Technion recently licensed the technology to Wisdome Wearables Ltd. This start-up is currently in the process of commercializing the product and seeking partners to realize this disruptive technology for the benefit of those at high risk of suffering from respiratory viruses.