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WVU engineers, designers partner to test materials for surgical masks

Surgical masks being made

Engineers and designers at West Virginia University have combined efforts to test and produce surgical masks for local health care facilities. (Submitted Photo)

When the director of West Virginia University’s Innovation Hub heard about a massive mask making effort underway next door at the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design , he knew engineers in the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and MineralResources could help.


So, Gene Cilento asked Elizabeth Shorrock, visiting assistant professor of fashion, dress and merchandising , to partner on a project to test materials for medical-grade masks that would support health care professionals at WVU Medicine J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital.

Previously a dedicated prototyping center, the Innovation Hub has quickly transformed into a testing and production facility during the COVID-19 crisis, critical to supporting the shortfall of personal protective equipment in the local area including mask alternatives , extenders and face shields .

“After being in a meeting with the doctors, it became clear that creating the masks for them was more important, so we shifted our focus,” Shorrock said.

One of the engineers she’s partnering with is Jeremy Gouzd, teaching assistant professor of industrial and management systems engineering, who prior to joining the Statler College, served as the head particulate penetration expert at the NIOSH Morgantown location.

Gouzd began testing different types of materials to obtain real data on particle penetration and how it compares to actual medical grade surgical masks.

“Some of the first materials tested were your typical grocery store tote bag with a Type H vacuum filter place inside,” Gouzd said. “This combination actually proved to be fairly effective but lacked the ability to shed fluid as well as other materials that we were investigating.”

While conducting research, Gouzd came across an article from a University undergoing similar efforts who saw promising results from a material called Halyard Sterilization Wrap, a common material used in hospitals and health care facilities alike to deliver sterile products, such as surgical tools.

Gouzd tested the material, Halyard H400 and H600 Sterilization Wrap, and determined that it is comparable to a simple surgical mask.

“After about a week and a half, we found a combination of material that would be well suited for production of mask and distribution to the community,” Gouzd said. “These combinations of materials produced protection efficiencies very close to if not as good as masks one could go out and purchase.”

WVU Medicine donated the material to Shorrock who assembled a team of four Davis College students as well as students and faculty from the School of Theatre in the College of Creative Arts to work exclusively on the Halyard Sterilization Wraps.

Since production began only three weeks ago the team has produced close to 3,000 masks.

“Working with the team from Statler College, and in close collaboration with the doctors at WVU Medicine, allowed us to test materials and create prototypes for the doctors and nurses in a very short time-span,” Shorrock said. “The feedback from the health care professionals was crucial in developing a mask that suited their needs.”

The surgical masks have been distributed to WVU Medicine, Mon Health Medical Center and Charleston Area Medical Center.



CONTACT: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources


Lindsay Willey
Director of Marketing and Communications
Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design

For more information on news and events in the West Virginia University Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, contact our Marketing and Communications office:

Phone: 304-293-4135