What’s inside the N95 mask: Dr. Peter Tsai’s life-saving hard work

N95 masks filter the 95% of the airborne particles with its electret melt-blown non-woven which effectively obstructs the virus from entering the human body. This material reinforces the virus-blocking capacity by 10 to 20 times, and Dr. Peter Tsai is renowned as one of the leading roles to develop this crucial component to lots of medical equipment.

Amid the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Peter Tsai becomes one of the most important figures under the spotlight of media in Taiwan and the US. This American scientist comes from Taiwan and holds the patented technologies transferred into more than 80 market-ready products, including the N95 masks and operation gowns. Now aged 68, he possesses these inventions that have protected more than one billion people from infection and are still working on the decontamination of the N95 masks after the outbreak of the 2020 pandemic.

“Before earning 100 million US dollars, I would choose to save 100 million people’s lives,” Stated Tsai in the interview, and shared a few his own stories.

Tsai majored in textile engineering and graduated from Taipei Institute of Technology in 1975. He began his career in Taiwan Textile Research Institute and later worked for the dyeing factories. Tsai, however, did not content himself with mere manufacturing in Taiwan. When the machine tools at his workplaces were all imported from the West or Japan, it aroused his curiosity to learn the core technologies of those machine tools.

Tsai, though spent all his savings, was then determined to study at Kansas State University for his master’s and Ph.D. degree. There he unleashed his passion for acquiring knowledge, and extended his learning to mathematics, physics, and chemistry, and even attained a degree in information engineering. His hard work earned him over 500 credits when he got his Ph.D. degree, and has even facilitated his later researches with integrated cross-disciplinary knowledge.

After graduation, Tsai headed a research team at The University of Tennessee. His team successfully developed the electret melt-blown non-woven, the more effective virus-blocking technology in 1992, and he received the Wheeley Award in 2006, which is considered the highest honor at The University of Tennessee.

“The sky is the limit,” he said when it comes to research and development. 

He has been conducting researches in academia and providing its applicable results to the industries. In 2018, Tsai developed hydro triboelectrification technology that improves the filtering of the fabric and ventilation of N95 masks. After his retirement, the new technology brought himself another Wheeley Award in 2019 and made him the only two-time winner of the award.

People can strike a billion lottery within one day, but it is completely impossible to discover cutting-edge technologies overnight. Tenacity is the foundation of life, stated Tsai in the interview with his eyes glowing enthusiastically.