Dr. Mihai Buretea – When asked why he chose to become a scientist, Mihai often says “It choose me, I’ve always been a scientist!” He started his career around age three, taking his toys apart and building creative gizmos out of them. By high school Mihai was a full-blown lab nerd, sneaking out of gym class and rifle practice to set up science demos for events like The Chemistry Caravan and Physics Olympics.
Mihai received a chemistry B.A. from Rutgers where he published the first synthesis of homoleptic lanthanide chalcogenolates and thermolysed them into semiconducting nano-particles.
After a year in industry studying the chemistry of C60 and other fullerenes, Mihai earned a Ph.D. in chemistry and materials science from U.C. Berkeley. His work focused on conductive polymers with applications in sensors and LEDs.
Mihai then joined Quantum Dot Corp. and was a key developer of their fluorescent biomarker technology that was based on semiconductor nano-particles. He continued along the same lines of research at Nanosys where he developed new hybrid photovoltaics based on composites of conductive polymers and nano-particles.
In 2004, Mihai started his own R&D and consulting lab, taking on an ever-changing array of materials and technology projects. He had no particular plan to become a filtration scientist, but the pandemic changed that. Relying on his particle and polymer experience, Mihai built particle test capability and launched two self-funded and volunteer-supported mask initiatives aimed at providing highly effective, reusable filtration that can be made during this time of crisis in a way that does not diminish needed medical supplies. Since March 2020, Mihai has been providing scientific consulting and particle testing for the Fiddler Elbow mask project, the most effective non-medical product to meet the above criteria and reach commercialization.
John Gunther – Founder and owner of Fiddler’s Elbow, a giftware manufacturer specializing in water-based textile printing with 48 years’ experience designing and manufacturing soft goods. You name a textile product; Fiddler’s Elbow’s has probably made it.
On March 20, 2020, I was driving from the Port of New York/New Jersey to my factory in Greenwich NY with a shipment of kitchen towels I just imported from India when Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on the radio that as of Sunday all non-essential businesses would be shut down because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Within 30 minutes I got several phone calls from friends and acquaintances saying I should make face masks based on my knowledge and experience in the sewing industry. I pulled into the loading dock at 5:30 that Friday evening and said hi to my neighbor Dr. Mihai Buretea, who was out waling his dog. I talked briefly with Mihai about the crisis at hand and asked to meet the following Monday to discuss the project. One year later we are launching our mask for sale to the public. Our mission was to make a mask that works, fits tight to the face without fogging up eyeglasses, is light weight, easy to breathe through, washable and does not rob front line medical workers of the limited supply of N95 materials.
The first major obstacle we encountered was finding a proper filtration material that could stop sub-micron sized particles. We were not the only company hounding the world’s manufacturers of particle filtration media. I contacted every US manufacturer, Taiwan and Europe; none of whom could meet the demand from their existing customers. Eventually, I found a Tennessee company who just released a product they recently developed with DuPont utilizing a different science than the one used in traditional N95 masks for the last 35 years.
N95 are great masks, they rely on an electric charge that captures sub-micron sized particles in an electric field as they try to pass through the mask material. The down side is they are not washable because soap and water knocks down the electric charge, greatly reducing their efficiency. Our filtration material can stop even the smallest airborne particles but does not depend on an electrostatic charge. It’s made from a web of nylon nanofibers encapsulated in an inner and outer layer of polyester and polypropylene fibers. The great feature of this filtration material is that it can be washed. So far, our testing shows that after six machine washes, there is a minimal drop in filtration efficiency. As we do more testing, we will update the data on our website.