The COVID-19 pandemic rages on in Philadelphia, with more than 93,000 cases and 2,400 deaths since its start, as well as across the country, with more than 20.6 million cases and 351,000 deaths.
All the while, health experts maintain that keeping physical distance from others, washing our hands and wearing a mask are the baseline tools to keep yourself and others safe.
But a solid 10 months into the pandemic, personal protective equipment (PPE) remains at a shortage for some healthcare pros and folks heading to their essential jobs. How far can you stretch a mask before it needs to be cleaned, and how many workers don’t have direct access to sterile equipment?
To solve for this, inventor Marvin Weinberger set out this spring to create a DIY device that can sterilize masks, then called the LightBox IR. The device — a prototype of which he developed from a soft pretzel warmer — can be assembled from affordable materials that can be found in the home or ordered online, he told us in April.
“Ideally, every electronic and electrical component will be readily available from Amazon to facilitate the DIY construction,” Weinberger said then. “For most handy people this should be a quick and affordable build.”
Now, thanks to a group of committed volunteers from the Philadelphia Makers Meetup and a handful of iterations of the design, instructions on how to build your own device, now called the LightBoxDIY, are available to the public. The machine uses dry heat (70°C for 30 minutes), which the team says has been proven effective at sanitizing masks, with a filtering effect that can be maintained above 95%, the team’s research shows. Materials should cost around $200.
“It took much longer than expected, but we’ve finally completed the design for the LightBox,” Weinberger told Technical.ly in a recent email. “Much has changed, and we built and rebuilt in order to perfect a simple, inexpensive but reliable design that could pass the testing regime (undertaken by some top UPenn people).”
Included in that group is Karen Hogan, CEO and cofounder of biotech company Biorealize and a lecturer in the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities, who has been working on the prototype at the Pennovation Center, along with other volunteers Edward Polkowski, Brad Denenberg, Andrej Patoski and Evan Gurgui.
“My hope is that more groups like ours can come together to help everyone navigate this pandemic in the safest ways possible,” Hogan said in an email.
And although vaccinations are here and being rolled out (slowly) across the U.S. and locally, the worst cases and hospitalizations of the pandemic will likely come this month, national health experts warn. And face masks will still be a pivotal point in protecting those on the frontlines and interacting with the public.
“As we reach the terrible peak of this pandemic face masks have never been more important,” Weinberger said. “But many of the best, reusable masks are expensive and still rare. We hope that the LightBox will help to save lives by insuring the safe, continuing use of these precious masks.”-30-
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