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Two Pitt Researchers Receive Manufacturing Innovation Challenge Funding for COVID-19 Response

PITTSBURGH (July 7, 2020) — COVID-19 has spurred research partnerships across sectors and industries. Two University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering faculty members, who are partnering with Pennsylvania companies, have recently each received $25,000 in funding from Pennsylvania’s Manufacturing PA Innovation Program COVID-19 Challenge to continue addressing the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the pandemic spread, the N95 masks—which include respirator filters that block out contaminants like the virus that causes COVID-19—were increasingly difficult to find. Xiayun Zhao and Markus Chmielus, assistant professors of mechanical engineering and materials science (MEMS) at Pitt, both received funding for their projects developing alternative, reusable filters for N95 masks.

“The response by the MEMS Department in aiding to address needs during this COVID-19 pandemic has been impressive, and I particularly applaud the efforts of Professors Zhao and Chmielus who are applying their expertise in advanced manufacturing in this response," said Brian Gleeson, Harry S. Tack Chair Professor of MEMS.

Zhao is partnering with Du-Co Ceramics Company on a project entitled “Rapid Manufacturing of Polymer-Derived Ceramic Films for Respirators.” This partnership will use polymer-derived ceramics (PDCs) to create ceramic filter films for N95 masks. The project will take advantage of photopolymerization-based additive manufacturing to rapidly create reusable and sterilizable ceramic filters.

Chmielus is working with the ExOne Company on a reusable N95 filters that uses metal binder-jet 3D printing. ExOne’s binder jetting technology is a high-speed form of 3D printing that can produce metal parts with specific porosity levels that can effectively filter out contaminants while allowing airflow. The reusable copper and stainless-steel filters are being designed to fit into a respirator cartridge for sustainable, long-term protection. 

Zhao and Chmielus are part of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Advanced Manufacturing (UPCAM) Materials Engineering and Processing group, which “supports fundamental research addressing the interrelationship of materials processing, structure, properties and/or life-cycle performance for targeted applications,” according to the website.

Author: Maggie Pavlick