Abstract: I discuss two inter-related soft matter experiments I developed to mitigate mask shortages during early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. I first learned of N95 masks in February 2020 that they present the only mask design capable of protecting against SARS-Cov-2. Academic curiosity initially led me to study their functionality, and when masks became scarce during the pandemic’s early days, I attempted manufacturing N95 masks. In the first part of the talk I discuss how, starting about mid March 2020, I built a cotton candy machine using a drill and beer cans to fabricate the dielectric fabrics used in N95 masks with discarded plastic containers as my input material. In the second part, I’ll discuss how I took my microwave oven apart to construct a corona discharge system to electrocharge these dielectric fabrics to achieve the N95 filtration standard.
Bio: Mahesh grew in India and received his Bachelors’ in Computer Engineering from the University of Madras (1998). Following a two year stint in the Indian software industry, he returned to academia and earned his MS Electrical Engineering (2002), MS Physics (2004) and PhD Physics (2006), all from the University of Pittsburgh. Following postdoctoral terms at Los Alamos National Laboratory (2006 – 2009) and Harvard University (2009 – 2011), he was appointed Assistant Professor at OIST Graduate University, Japan starting Summer 2012 and was promoted to Associate Professor in summer 2018. Since 2018, he also holds an adjunct appointment with the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy. Mahesh’s primary research interests lie in Experimental Nonlinear, Non-equilibrium, and Soft Matter Physics with minor contributions in theory and numerics. His research portfolio is organized along four overlapping themes: Statistical Physics of Renewable & Sustainable Energy, Quantitative Life Sciences, Hydrodynamics, and Amorphous Media. His serious non-scientific interests include (Japanese and Islamic) art and hiking.