Nuclear disaster leads to face mask design

Elena Bodnar was a young doctor working at the Chernobyl nuclear accident site 25 years ago, and was part of a study looking at the long term effects of the accident after 20 years. “I was very concerned about the government’s unpreparedness then, and we were told nothing. We found out more about what was happening from the TV reports in the West.

“That’s why it’s important that people feel protected and that governments are transparent and honest, it’s about perceived risk,” she said.


She is in Bristol today for the IgNobel Awards, run by the Annals of Improbable Research to celebrate strange and wonderful science. The tour is at Hewlett Packard’s Labs in Bristol with some of the 2010 winners.

She won the 2009 Public Health IgNoble award for her design of a bra that can be split apart and used as a face mask in an emergency. The bra includes a HEPA filter and is selling in the US, UK and Germany through a website, while Dr Bodnar is in discussion with bra makers.

“I wear it all the time – after all, for risk management, nothing is more important than availability,” ¬†she said.

The bra unclips at the back and front to provide two face masks and the shoulder straps can be adjusted to go around the head. A flexible material in the top of the bra secures the mask around the nose.

She is now working on new materials such as high density cottons and silks for the filter, and on ways to include active chemicals such as carbon, but still allow the bra to be washed regularly. Further out, she is thinking about sensors in the bras, either chemical so that the bra changes colour or even using microelectronics.

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