‘Mask Innovation Challenge’: HHS, CDC launch mask design contest for cash prize

The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have partnered to launch the "Mask Innovation Challenge," which will allow people to compete to submit their most innovative design for the "next generation of masks."

Individual winners of the challenge could net upwards of $90,000.

BARDA, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, and NIOSH, which is under the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, came up with the challenge in hopes of developing "better designs, materials, and technologies that are more acceptable to wearers and that ensure quantified measures of performance," according to the contest’s website.

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FILE - Generic mask stock image.

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In addition to creating a next-generation mask that will help prevent the spread of any respiratory diseases, the challenge will address other issues that have plagued masks since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, including "contact dermatitis with prolonged wear, physical discomfort, fogging of eyeglasses, and difficulty communicating."

The challenge will run six months and will be divided into two phases, with a possible third phase, according to the website.

"All respondents are eligible for Phase 1. Participation in Phase 2 is not dependent upon participation in Phase 1; however, winners from Phase 1 will be eligible to receive additional points for consideration in the final judging process for Phase 2," according to the challenge website.

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Phase 1 will consist of the design portion of the challenge. Participants must submit their innovative mask designs which must:

  • "Achieve filtration efficiency ≥20% against a sodium chloride (NaCl) aerosol challenge with a count median diameter of 75 ± 20 nm and a geometric standard deviation of 1.86 at a flowrate of 85 ± 4 Lpm. If the specimen lies flat in the filter holder, the flowrate will be adjusted to achieve a face velocity of 10 cm/sec."
  • "Achieve inhalation airflow resistance of ≤15 mm H2O at a flowrate of 85 ± 4 Lpm. If the specimen lies flat in the filter holder, the flowrate will be adjusted to achieve a face velocity of 10 cm/sec."
  • "Ability to reduce inward leakage of particles into the breathing zone across the interface of the device and the face. The testing may be performed using people or a manikin headform."
  • "Other criteria as deemed necessary in later phases."

Up to 10 people could win in phase 1, with each of those winners receiving up to $10,000.

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Phase 2 of the challenge will be a proof-of-concept for the design.

Finalists will be invited to submit a prototype to be tested by NIOSH laboratories and other partner laboratories. More details will be provided once the challenge kicks off, but for now, the criteria that disqualify a participant’s prototype are as follows:

  • "Prophylactic chemical treatment such as creams, sprays, coatings, drugs, etc. to provide biocidal enhancement. These devices will be excluded because of their potential for skin, eye, and inhalation irritation of the wearer."
  • "Contact tracing apps and other behavioral change protocols or technology."
  • "NIOSH-approved respirators or designs modifying NIOSH-approved respirators."
  • "FDA-cleared masks or modifications to FDA-cleared masks."
  • "Products already carrying international respirator certifications (e.g., KN95, P2, P3, etc.) or modifications to these products."
  • "A self-contained breathing apparatus or a supplied-air design that would connect to a stationary air source."

The grand prize for phase 2 will be $400,000 split among five winners.

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Entries for phase 1 must be submitted via https://app.reviewr.com/BARDA/site/BARDAChallenge by April 21, 2021, no later than 5 p.m. ET.

Up to 250 submissions will be considered for the challenge, "with BARDA reserving the right to review additional submissions at its own discretion."

For a full description and template for submission requirements, visit the "Mask Innovation Challenge" website.