By Jeffrey Mu ’24
Amidst a global pandemic and the flu-season starting, affordable masks are becoming less and less widespread, especially in densely populated or economically developing countries. India and China’s pollution and smog have rendered the air quality almost unbreathable, and with regular masks being sold at a whopping 400% their original price, people are looking for alternatives to air our clean air solutions. One of these innovators happens to be a Bellarmine student, Harshil Ahuja. Utilizing the tech of the Maker’s lab and some inspiration from actual masks, he talks to us this week about his inspirations in crafting an effective, affordable solution to the mask shortage.
Left: Harshil and his prototype mask solution
Harshil Ahuja ’24
Q. Could you introduce yourself and your project?
A. My name’s Harshil Ahuja, I have designed a personal air purifier that allows a person to breathe in clean air for the cost of 5 dollars or less.
Q. How does the product work?
A. These bags inside are my own design filters, it’s in a 3D printed encasing here on the outside. You have 3 preliminary filters and one final filter on the outside. Each of these filters are made with 100% cotton fabric and activated charcoal, so as a person breathes, there’s a tube connecting this hole to the mask, so the air flows through here and gets cleaned through the filters.
Below: The entrance of the prototype where air flows in and out
Above: The hole where a tube is stuck to connect it to the user
Q. Is this an attachment to the mask?
A. Yeah it is. There’s a hose that’s attached from this portion to the mask, and that way when a person simply breathes the air pressure from that pulls the air through the front, and the mask itself has its own filtration element. It’s not as good as the base, but it does prevent a person from breathing in outside air while they’re inhaling.
Q. How did you come up with this idea?
A. So I came up with this idea in 7th grade. It was a very basic design at first: just a tennis ball case and a few filters and charcoal; I was using industrial grade stuff at that time. But over time, I saw the air pollution in India and all these different people that were suffering because of the air pollution and fire season in California, so I thought to myself that a person should not need to spend 300 dollars to breathe in clean air, so I spent months designing this. Currently I’m testing it, and so far the results are looking great.
Below: Filtration inside the prototype: consists of activated charcoal and 100% cotton
Q. How did you design the product once you came up with the idea?
A. So the first part was figuring out how to filter things, so I spend upwards of 500 hours on researching filtration elements. After that I came up with this design for a filter, and basically it was quite simple from then on; I just had to design a shell to hold the filters. The shell itself is very straightforward, it’s just a box with magnets for a lid to help keep it airtight as much as possible, the rest has a few supports and Velcro so you can wear it on the go.
Left to right: Finished prototype with lid on, fitting on mask and prototype on a person
Q. Wow! So this is a four-year project?
A. Yeah, for the most part. I dropped it in late 7th grade but after a few years I realized that I should probably bring it back again, and especially during Covid I thought it would be a fun thing to take on. I also saw the broader application of such a product, and I was excited to take it further on.
Q. So you can remove the filters to accommodate for people who can’t breathe as well?
A. Yeah, so once I’m ready to start giving these out they will include replacement filters, so that way you don’t need to spend extra money to replace filters. Again, I don’t think you need to spend that much money to access clean air. These filters are really easy to slide in and take out.
Q. And this is a personal project?
A. Yeah it is. I’m currently in the works of starting a company around the premise that we can tackle problems in the world at a low cost.
Q. Do you have a plan for selling it?
A. Currently the company is in its initial phases, but I’m also making a second product along with these, and once I’m ready with both I will formally establish the company. I would like to do some outreach and work with nonprofits to get them to people so they can have easy access.
Q. How do you plan to manufacture this product?
A. Manufacturing is going to be an interesting process for sure. I plan to coordinate with suppliers for materials to accelerate the product into its final phase. I also plan to send it off to get certification for FDA approval. All this needs to be done before I can start manufacturing.
Q. For manufacturing, are the materials used in the prototype going to be the same?
A. Some yes, others no. The body is going to be made of plastic and the mask portion polycarbonate material, this way the person breathes in the filtered air and nothing else. Also, I plan to use waterproof paper for the filter, as this allows the person to wash and reuse the mask multiple times. For filtration, I’ve also added melt-blown fabric. This material removes 99.97% of all particles up to 0.3 microns, so each layer is able to clean well.
Q. Since many people aren’t wearing masks anymore, do you think this will affect your product sales in any way?
A. That’s something that crossed my mind, I honestly don’t think so. The only reason it’s not that big of an impact is because my mask is designed for air pollution, and not Covid. My hope is that my mask will be used in all types of scenarios, and especially with the wildfire season starting up, the mask will be useful in that regard.
Left to right: Fitting of the mask on a person, final model built
So there you have it folks! Harshil’s product is not only innovate and a clever solution to the masking policy, but he also plans to sell it later on. With the world busied up with the likes of fires, pollution, and disease, many people are in need of new masks like his that are affordable and effective. So next time you go outside, think before you mask!