Peter Tsai (蔡秉燚), the Taiwan-born inventor of the key technology used in N95 respirators and masks, is studying ways to sterilize masks for reuse amid a global shortage due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tsai, 68, said that he was motivated not by money, but by a desire to help others.
“Given the choice, I would prefer to help 100 million people rather than earn US$100 million,” Tsai said on Wednesday.
Photo courtesy of National Taipei University of Technology alumni Huang Chun-chung
Tsai, who has retired from his work as a researcher at the University of Tennessee, wrote an article for the University of Tennessee Research Foundation in which he explored ways to sterilize and reuse masks.
After graduating from the Provincial Taipei Institute of Technology, now known as National Taipei University of Technology, Tsai worked at the Taiwan Textile Research Institute in then-Taipei County, before transferring to a dyeing and finishing plant.
At the time, textile equipment and technology were imported from the US, Europe and Japan, Tsai said.
Spurred by his interest in the industry, he moved to the US to attend graduate school.
At Kansas State University he threw himself wholeheartedly into his studies, completing more than 500 credits — the equivalent of six doctoral degrees of course material, he said.
Tsai’s coursework and research touched upon a variety of disciplines, including hydrodynamics, electrical engineering and material science, and in his experiments he used computers to rapidly model theoretical results.
After graduation, he became a research fellow at the University of Tennessee and in 1992 led a research team that developed two key technologies that would be used in respirators.
Tsai’s research in melt blowing and electrostatic charging technologies greatly improved the filtration efficiency of nonwoven fabrics used in masks, allowing submicron particles to be captured and stopped from traveling through the masks, the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry Association said on Facebook on April 6.
After seeing the pandemic worsen and the global mask shortage, Tsai wrote a research paper on ways to extend the life of disposable masks.
The paper has garnered the attention of researchers at several US schools, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Yale University and Stanford University.
“They told me I could earn a lot from these findings, but I would rather help people than make money,” Tsai said.
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