A better mask
Luis Estevez wants his research to help the world. So when the coronavirus hit, he looked at the clean water technology he was developing in the UD Research Institute and decided he could use it to clean the air, too.
His N95 mask has a distinct advantage over the masks now used, he said. Typical N95 masks rely on overlapping fibers to trap the virus and other pathogens. They get contaminated and are thrown away or undergo a complicated disinfection process. His design coats the mask with silver nanoparticles that destroy the virus’s ability to infect.
“Not only does this coating of nano-silver create an extra layer of protection from viruses and bacteria, but treated masks can be used repeatedly and for long periods of time without risk of contamination to the wearer or others,” he said.
“Not only does this coating of nano-silver create an extra layer of protection from viruses and bacteria, but treated masks can be used repeatedly and for long periods of time without risk of contamination to the wearer or others.”
Estevez recently received a $75,000 grant from the MedTech Launch Fund, which helps prototype development and testing of medical technologies coming out of local universities and research laboratories. He and
Kenya Crosson, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at UD, have been working to refine the design, which will need federal certification to receive the N95 designation, meaning it filters at least 95% of airborne particles.
Cleaning both the air and water has become a full-time job for Estevez.
“Actually, I was working two full-time jobs,” said the battery scientist who began working with nanomaterials while developing energy storage and fuel cell technologies. In addition to his contract work at UDRI, Estevez was steadily building his own business, Advanced & Innovative Multifunctional Materials, which specializes in highly porous carbon materials with embedded biocidal silver. It’s the technology he’s also using to develop water purification systems small enough for a single user or large enough to support a village.
“Clean water is not just a research project — it’s a moral imperative,” he said.
“Clean water is not just a research project — it’s a moral imperative.”
AIMM was the first business to partner with Propel Dayton, the University’s initiative to support business development by UD faculty, staff and students or by members of the public with an invention managed by UD’s Office of Technology and Entrepreneurial Partnership. Mathew Willenbrink ’96, director of technology partnerships at UD, said he expects 10 to 15 technologies to be licensed this year.
“One can really amplify the value of the technology with start-up companies,” he said.
Propel Dayton provides resources, training and expertise. As companies progress through the program, they move from technology licensing to product marketing, learn how to secure funding and hire talent, and ultimately sell their products and graduate from the program. Funds generated for UD from licensing agreements get reinvested in more technologies and businesses.
Estevez has graduation from the program in his sights. In January, he left UDRI to focus on AIMM. He recently received a $45,000 grant from Ohio State University to move his water purification system closer to production.
“This is the end goal we all want — for the business to be successful and the researcher to devote more time to the project,” Estevez said.
And while it was hard for him to leave his UDRI colleagues, Estevez isn’t going far. He plans to tap UDRI as a partner on future federal clean water grants, and he’s connecting with UD’s young talent. Estevez recently hired two student interns to help with AIMM, including senior entrepreneurship major Rhett Litavsky, who is getting hands-on training in business from the ground up.