What motivated you to pursue the idea of applying origami techniques to face masks?
As a Chinese native, I have many relatives living in mainland China and Hong Kong, so I have been following the news of the coronavirus outbreak since it was first reported in China in the early January. In late January, I received a phone call from my brother who lives in Hong Kong asking me if I could still buy surgical masks here in Bloomington or in Indiana, as there was an extreme shortage of masks in Hong Kong. My brother, like many other people in Hong Kong who lived through SARS epidemic in the early 2000s, is very aware of the importance of wearing a face mask during a respiratory epidemic. I tried to find masks in the United States for him, but by that time they were completely sold out. My brother also asked me if I could come up with a better design using origami that would fit the face tightly, as the surgical masks he had been wearing didn’t fit his face well. That was how I started to look into a new origami face mask design.
Talk about the mask prototype you’ve created.
It took me only a few hours to come up with the initial prototype design using origami technique. This is because I have been studying an origami technique called “semi-generalized Miura-ori”, or SGMO design, first proposed by Robert Lang, a well-known expert in origami. I had been working on the alteration of a technique similar to SGMO to create curvilinear folding designs that can be used as lampshades. (See some examples at https://www.foldedlightart.com/copy-of-anemoi/). So I had learned how to fold paper very quickly so it will fit any profile curve. I began translating what I knew from working with a lampshade to a face mask. I can fold the paper to fit a person’s unique face profile; the origami face mask can be adjusted to fit a person with a long nose as well as a person with a short nose.
What are the basic features of the alternative design you’re working on?
I want to have a very simple design so it can be easily manufactured, and a design that fits the face tightly. Loose fit is a major problem with current surgical masks. When I see millions of faces wearing the same surgical masks on the news every day, I’ve asked myself why people don’t have an alternative.
Description of the video:
[Video: Indiana University logo appears on black screen]
[Video: Music plays]
[Video: Folding a Mask with Jiangmei Wu appears followed by materials list]
[Video: images of mask being folded by woman's hands appear as steps appear on red bar at bottom]
Lay out filter so it is flat and even. May need to adjust according to design of filter.
Step 1: Remove cardboard tab from filter.
Step 2: Align and trace the template on the filter.
Step 3: Cut outside the lines. Optional: cut off excess fold.
Step 4: Align template and mark pleating points.
Step 5: Place twist tie in the top tab and fold tab over it.
Step 6: Staple shut.
Step 7: Flip mask over and fold in half.
Step 8: Pinch the first pleat point and fold. (Note the second mark is the bottom of your first pleat fold.
Step 9: Crease second pleat line and fold. Bring first fold and second fold together.
Step 10: Staple folds together and repeat on opposite side.
Step 11: Add more staples around edges to secure mask. If staples on the inside of the mask are uncomfortable, flip the direction of the stapling.
Step 12: Staple elastic bands to the mask. (Mark both sides of mask for easy stapling.)
[Video: Indiana University logo and For more information, visit research.impact.iu.edu/coronavirus appear on black screen]
What are the challenges involved in this project?
One of the most significant challenges involved in this particular project is centered on the debate regarding whether face masks should be used among the general public during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are a lot of debates on whether or not the general public should be asked to wear face masks in their communities. As of early April, the U.S. CDC doesn’t recommend the use of respirators or other face masks in the community. However, George Gao, director-general of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview published in Science on March 27 that people not wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. and Europe is a “big mistake”. Similarly, a report titled “National coronavirus response: A road map to reopening” from the American Enterprise Institute, a public policy think tank, called for people to “wear fabric nonmedical face masks while in the community to reduce their risk of asymptomatic spread.” The situation surrounding COVID-19 is evolving very rapidly in the U.S., and changing policies and public habits will affect how this project will finally evolve.
Another challenge is how to combine a medical device with fashion so that people will be more likely to wear the mask.
You are reaching out to medical expert collaborators, tell us about that.
I hope to learn from medical experts what is most important in a new face mask design. I have been talking to Dr. Jonathan Merrell, assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at IU School of Medicine, who has emphasized the importance of having a tight seal around the edge of a face mask. If a face mask doesn’t have a tight seal, it is not very efficient in preventing the virus from entering or exiting the mouth and nose.
What are your next steps? Where do you hope to go with this work?
The project is at its beginning stage. I still need to test for various issues that occur when one wears the mask. I need to be able to answer a number of questions, including: How effective is the mask in preventing the spread of cough/sneeze droplets? How effective is the mask in preventing the penetration of a virus that is as small as 0.05 microns to 0.1 microns? How long can a person wear the mask comfortably? How can we add fashion styling so as to encourage everyday face mask wearing?
All of these aspects will influence the final design and material choices. After these initial developments, I would like to see the face mask get mass-produced. That is a whole different question, since there will be a lot of more challenges associated with mass production.