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Innovation challenge seeks to solve a common hurdle in curbing coronavirus spread: mask design

Author: Sandeep Patel, Ph.D., Director, BARDA Division of Research, Innovations and Ventures, Kumiko Lippold, Ph.D., M.P.H., Health Scientist, BARDA Division of Research, Innovations and Ventures
Published Date: 4/8/2021 12:32:00 PM
Category: Innovations; Medical Countermeasures; Response & Recovery; Public Health Preparedness;

The creative talent of inventors and entrepreneurs across the entire country is the heartbeat of our economy and our nation’s well-being. At BARDA, we’d like to tap this energy to solve a critical challenge for our country: the design of comfortable, protective facemasks for the general public. Scientific evidence shows that masks can be useful in curbing the spread of respiratory infections, yet we know that actual use is not up to the same standard as intended use. Research shows the most common reasons people don’t wear masks or don’t wear them properly: fit, comfort – including fogging glasses – and lack of confidence in the effectiveness.

Last week we launched a contest called the Mask Innovation Challenge: Building Tomorrow’s Mask to design effective, comfortable masks for the public. We’re offering $500,000 in cash prizes because we’re certain American ingenuity can design and build better masks that people are more willing to wear and trust.


In the first phase, up to 10 winning ideas will split $100,000 for winning design ideas. Ideas are due by 5 p.m. ET, April 21, 2021. In the second phase, up to five winning prototypes will split $400,000.

This contest is different from previous challenges sponsored by the private sector in that prototypes from phase 2 will be tested by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or partner labs to determine how well the prototypes meet the performance criteria. Winners have to meet a specified filtration level. That doesn’t mean the mask will automatically receive NIOSH certification; additional development for certification would be needed through the NIOSH certification process which is independent of this competition.

We also want the winning masks to be easy to manufacture because a good idea becomes great when it hits the commercial market, and everyone starts using the product. We’re offering BARDA scientific mentorship to guide winners in completing development.

You could help solve one of the biggest problems we’re facing today and into the future. We can’t wait to see where American ingenuity leads in solving the mask challenge. Check out Challenge.gov to learn more about the contest rules, criteria, and how to participate.

 Logo for BARDA's Mask Innovation Challenge. Building Tomorrow's Mask.


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