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Microscopic images reveal the science and beauty of face masks

Thứ tư,14/04/2021
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To know how effective masks are at slowing COVID-19, it helps to study them up close. Fibers sticking out from the weave of cotton flannel (pictured in this microscopic cross-section) make the fabric feel soft and makes them more effective.

Studying fabrics at very high magnification helps determine how some face masks filter out particles better than others. And the close-ups reveal an unseen beauty of the mundane objects that have now become an essential part of life around the world.

1. N95 mask: In an N95 mask (seen in false color cross-section), a thin outer layer (top) and thick inner layer (bottom) sandwich a filtration layer (purple), which traps the smallest particles. The multilayered assemblage made of plastic is melted and blown into a weblike fabric, which makes N95s filter particles better than cloth masks, even cotton ones

1. N95 mask: In an N95 mask (seen in false color cross-section), a thin outer layer (top) and thick inner layer (bottom) sandwich a filtration layer (purple), which traps the smallest particles. The multilayered assemblage made of plastic is melted and blown into a weblike fabric, which makes N95s filter particles better than cloth masks, even cotton ones

2. Cotton flannel: A network of cotton fibers “hovers” above a woven surface in this view of the fabric. This chaotic arrangement gives cotton flannel fibers additional opportunities to grab particles as they flow through the fabric.E.P. VICENZI/SMITHSONIAN’S MUSEUM CONSERVATION INSTITUTE AND NIST

3. Polyester-cotton blend: Disheveled natural cotton fibers (pale) contrast with nearly identical polyester fibers (blue) in this false-color image. Polyester fibers are highly organized, mostly straight and smooth, making them less effective than cotton fibers alone at trapping nanoscale particles.

4. Rayon: Like patterns observed on rigatoni pasta, grooves run along the length of rayon fibers. Unlike cotton flannels, rayon has no apparent weblike structures formed from raised fibers, making it easier for particles to move from one side of the synthetic fabric to the other.

5. Wool flannel: Seen in cross-section, these fibers resemble a hurricane swirl. Wool flannel can also form fiber webs that block particles, but those webs are not as effective as ones in 100-percent cotton, researchers found.

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