The Mask Innovation Challenge

The Mask Innovation Challenge gives people the opportunity to design a safer and more suitable mask.

Courtesy of Center for Biotechnology

The Mask Innovation Challenge gives people the opportunity to design a safer and more suitable mask.

Tiana Salisbury, Photojournalist

In an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19, people have been required to wear masks in public. However, many people have made several complaints about masks. For example, some people believe that masks make it harder to breathe and others find it frustrating that wearing a mask fogs up their glasses. In response to this, the US government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) partnered to create the Mask Innovation Challenge.

The Mask Innovation Challenge creates an opportunity for people to design and create an innovative mask that will not only keep viruses from spreading but also be comfortable for everyone to wear. Submissions are open from March 31 to April 21, 2021, and only the first 250 submissions will be considered. 

There are certain requirements each mask design must fulfill. First and foremost, the design must be comfortable and suitable for everyone. This means that the design will help solve common mask-related issues, which include dermatitis, ineffective communication, and physical discomfort. Madison Liao (10) says that she has “noticed these complaints from a lot of people and [she thinks] a more comfortable mask can encourage more people to wear one.” Additionally, the designs must be realistic. BARDA and NIOSH stated that they will not allow designs that incorporate chemical treatments, contact tracing, or self-contained breathing equipment. 

The Mask Innovation Challenge will be judged in two phases. The first phase will evaluate the overall design of each mask. Judges will look for how the design either improves a pre-existing design or how it effectively uses new materials and technology. After the first phase, ten regional winners will be selected and each winner will win $10,000. In the second phase, participants will create new prototypes to solve a scenario presented to them. Although not much information has been released about the details of this phase, it is known that the prototypes created for this phase will be tested in NIOSH laboratories. Some of the tests that will likely be conducted on the mask prototypes include filtration efficiency, inhalation airflow resistance, and fit. At the end of this phase, five winners will be chosen to split a prize pool of $400,000.

Although more people are getting vaccinated today, masks still hold a significant role in our lives. The Mask Innovation Challenge will hopefully lead to the development of a mask that satisfies everyone while keeping them safe. Until the pandemic is over, people will need to continue wearing a mask, which is why creating a favorable mask can help create a safer community.