“Performs like an N95”: Madison engineers design mask fitter

The “Badger Seal” prevents gaps on the sides, top & bottom of a face mask
Published: Nov. 12, 2020 at 2:05 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 12, 2020 at 6:20 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - With so many face mask options now available, you’ve probably noticed that some fit better than others.

Two engineers at UW Madison realized that the key to a truly protective mask is having it tightly sealed to the face. So, they developed a product that does just that. It’s called the Badger Seal.

The idea came to Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Dr. Scott Sanders, around the beginning of the pandemic. That’s when he was first was studying the efficacy of masks. “I was doing videos of a mannequin that was coughing and we could see the fog coming out the gaps. That was in like May.”

He realized that while masks help, so many of them still allowed particles to escape from the top, bottom and sides. “We thought about, what are different ways we could improve that?”

He called on his colleague at UW’s Grainger Engineering Design Innovation Lab, Dr. Lennon Rodgers, to help. “He said something along the lines of ‘oddly the ones I use the disposable masks, if I tape around the edges of the mask they work amazing’. And so I’m like there has to be a way to do that,” says Rodgers.

Badger Seal designed by UW engineers
Badger Seal designed by UW engineers(Erin Sullivan)

They began designing a product that would help seal a mask tighter to the face and improve its efficiency.

“When you think about it it’s actually kind of complicated because you want the upper part to be stationary and have a nice seal, but your jaw moves. But you still want a seal, says Rogers.”

“Initially it looked like it was going to be difficult because some of the initial prototypes were not very comfortable,” says Sanders.

Dr. Rodgers notes that they were “ordering a lot of different types of materials. We tried wire, we tried different types of elastic. And this is eventually what came out of it.”

After weeks of trial and error, the Badger Seal was born. “It’s composed of this green gardening tie is what they call it. It’s used to tie up tomato plants and then this is just clear PVC tubing. And then it has this elastic cord and then it has a little cord lock in the back. And it all together costs less than 50 cents,” says Rodgers.

The Badger Seal is most effective when worn on top of a non-medical-grade surgical mask.

“We were testing these in many different scenarios, and we got the data showing it’s really very effective. In many cases could equal the performance of an N95 mask,” says Sanders.

Dr. Rodgers notes that it does so without jeopardizing the supply chain for health care facilities, “because it uses a very low cost, ubiquitous disposable mask that’s all over the world that costs cents to buy.”

They wanted to make sure that this was an open source project. Meaning anyone can have access to the design and learn how to make it themselves.

“We have the design on our website. We provide all the parts that are needed so people can click on them they can buy the materials they need. We have videos showing you how to put it together. It takes less than 5 minutes,” says Sanders.

They’ve seen students making their own versions using pipe cleaners and other cheap and easily accessible materials. They also say countless professors on campus wear the Badger Seal and attest to its comfort.

Just a few weeks ago, a Madison business partnered with Sanders & Rodgers to start producing the Badger Seal on a larger scale so that anyone can buy one.

“It’s actually come out of a group called Sector 67 which is a hacker-space in Madison. And a group of the members there have come together and they’ve started to make them and sell them,” says Rodgers.

Both men say their goal was never to make a profit, but to create something that will help the everyday person better protect themselves from COVID-19.

“Hopefully more people see the value in them. I think that they could really help in terms of getting down the amount of COVID in terms of aerosols getting out into the rooms. As people will certainly come inside when the weather is getting colder,” says Rodgers.

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