Dr. Peter Tsai is a scientist, a legendary inventor, and, most recently, a hero of the pandemic.
The spread of COVID-19 has led to a growing demand for N95 masks and respirators. With hospitals facing shortages around the world, the former University of Tennessee researcher has come out of retirement to help save more lives.
In 1992, a University of Tennessee research team led by Peter successfully developed filtration technology.
The material used an electrostatic charge to filter out particles and protect wearers from contracting illnesses. Interestingly enough, Peter called the process “corona charging,” not knowing how fitting the description would become decades later. You see, these days, this same material can be found in N95 mask respirators.
While Peter retired in 2019, his incredible work didn’t stop for long. When the mask shortage began, many groups, including the scientific collective N95DECON, reached out to him for solutions, which he was determined to provide.
After setting up a home lab, he began experimenting with different decontamination methods so people could reuse their masks without ruining the filtration. Working around the clock, he tried boiling, steaming, and baking the masks until he hit the jackpot with a dry heat method.
Then he teamed up with Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Lab to ramp up mask production by converting the space into a filtration-cloth facility. Director Merlin Theodore said Peter turned what could have been a monthslong process into just a few weeks.
Now the lab can churn out material for 9,000 masks an hour. What’s more, Peter offered his services for free! Oak Ridge did pay him a little bit though, as their policy requires compensation.
“That’s what struck me the most about him,” Merlin told The Washington Post. “He didn’t care about the money. He just wanted to help as many people as he could.”
The way Peter sees it, he’s simply putting his expertise to good use. “If I can have this opportunity to help the community, then it will be a good memory for the rest of my life,” he said. “I’m happy to do it.”
Oak Ridge is already sharing their knowledge with companies like Cummins, a manufacturing corporation that’s producing enough filters to make a million respirator masks a day! Thanks to Peter, they will be able to make a huge impact on hospitals everywhere.
Share this story to thank Peter for saving lives with his brilliant mind.
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