IUPUI engineer designing next-generation filters for masks and ventilators

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INDIANAPOLIS – IUPUI Associate Professor Jing Zhang hopes a project he and his students are working on could lead to the next generation of virus-stopping filters for masks and ventilators.

Zhang, with IUPUI’s Mechanical and Energy Engineering Department got the idea over the summer to use a 3D printed filter design and coat it with a layer of copper alloy.

“To provide more protection,” Zhang said.  “It’s very important work I want to do.”

Copper is known as a virus inhibitor because its unique properties can stop a germs’ vibration and make it difficult for a virus to live on a surface coated with it.

“Copper is used on a number of items like handrails and doorknobs and these kinds of surfaces,” said Regenstrief Institute Director of Public Health Informatics, Dr. Brian Dixon.

Zhang used a process called electroplating to coat the plastic filter with the copper alloy.  To design the filament’s structure, he turned to one of nature’s great filters; the gills of a fish.

“It’s better to learn from nature,” Zhang said.  “So, we really need to make the structure really fine with a lot of details.  This can be only achieved by 3D printing.”

Although the filter design is complex, Zhang said it can be easily reproduced by a 3D printer.

“I think that it has a lot of promise in making masks more effective at blocking the virus,” Dixon said.

Zhang is still working with his engineering students, as well as experts in the Chemistry and Medical Schools at the university.  He still has some testing to do in order to determine how the copper-coated filters interact with a live virus.

“The prototype, I think, is fine,” he said.  “But we are still trying to improve the design and the quality of the part.”

Zhang says he’s already received interest in the design from one U.S. company and a university in the U.K.  Once testing is complete, he hopes the project will go to mass production at some point down the road.

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