ASU team made top 5 in $1 million XPRIZE mask challenge

The University’s Luminosity Lab team could win the grand prize on Dec. 15 for a face mask it designed

A team of five ASU students may have made the world's "Million Dollar Mask."

In August, students within ASU’s Luminosity Lab registered for XPRIZE's "Next-Gen Mask Challenge," along with 991 other teams from 76 different countries. XPRIZE is a nonprofit foundation that hosts competitions to incentivize sharing of new ideas for the world’s most pressing issues.

The challenge welcomed individuals ages 15-24 to re-imagine masks used to protect against COVID-19 and consider the following criteria: "x-factor," most wearable, best for large-scale adoption, most manufacturable at low cost, accessibility and functionality. The top team will be awarded $500,000, and two additional teams will split the other $500,000. The competition's goal is to increase mask use across the globe.

After a rigorous six-month design and prototype building process, the team developed what they call "the floemask." Announced earlier this month, it made the top five finalists, making the team a contender for the grand prize. 

The Luminosity Lab team is led by Nikhil Dave, a third-year student studying neuroscience and innovation in society, and includes four other students: John Patterson, Katie Pascavis, Tarun Suresh and Jerina Gabriel, a junior studying graphic design.

“We saw there’s a lot of these emerging mask technologies out there, but a lot of them are seriously lacking in one particular area whether it is aesthetics, or filtration efficiency or just general overall breathability,” said Patterson, a second-year master's student studying electrical engineering. “We tried to really synergize a wide range of different technologies that are being developed together to make one winner type of mask.”

The main feature of the design is a second chamber that increases breathability and reduces heat to prevent glasses from fogging during use, according to Pascavis, a sophomore studying mechanical engineering. While common face masks have one chamber that filters the air from both the nose and mouth, the team's two-chambered mask separates the air from the nose and keeps it off the face. 

“The aesthetics of this design are really strong, as well, at least in our opinion, particularly seeing as we are able to incorporate both the high-performance medical filtration media and on top of that, a highly breathable mesh that gives it a customization capability,” Patterson said. “Overall, trying to get that breathability up, this has really been a success.”

Patterson said the two-chambered design "is a strong point," but the materials used are industry-standard materials and can be manufactured at a large scale. This may come in handy as the winner of the competition will be connected with manufacturing opportunities in the U.S. to reproduce the mask.

XPRIZE partnered with seven companies, including Honeywell and 3M, to provide support for the teams in the forms of mentorship and free or discounted materials and services.

“I think the most fun part of the challenge is working with 3M in order to get the mask prototyped, seeing what they needed to get that done and seeing (the mask) take off from there,” said Suresh, a first-year master's student studying industrial engineering. “It was really cool watching their organization work.”

Pascavis explained that XPRIZE’s partnership with Lydall, one of the world’s leading companies in the manufacturing of filtration solutions, helped their mask prototype come to life.

“Lydall actually gave us some of their medical filtration material to put inside our mask, meaning that we achieved the same filtration efficiency similar to an N-95 with a simple design that looks like a normal community mask,” Pascavis said. 

The Luminosity Lab team and its competitors will deliver a 60-second pre-recorded pitch of their mask to a panel of celebrity judges and industry experts on Dec. 15 at 12 p.m. PST. The event is cohosted by CNBC's Mad Money host Jim Cramer, along with other celebrity judges, where the winners of the $1 million will be announced through livestream.

While its members said celebrations will be in order if they end up winning the competition, the team says their main focus is helping to slow the spread of the coronavirus. 

“We want to use this support from XPRIZE ... because something as simple as wearing a mask can save lots of lives,” Pascavis said. 


Reach the reporter at kkwilso5@asu.edu and follow @kaceywilson_ on Twitter. 

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