Peter Tsai: Inventor of the N95 Mask

Peter Tsai was a Taiwanese-American material scientist who was best known for his role in inventing the N95 mask, a piece of personal protective equipment (PPE) that has become an essential tool in the fight against infectious diseases.


Photo courtesy of CNN.

Tsai was born in Taiwan in 1952 and received his undergraduate degree in textile engineering from National Taiwan University. He then went on to obtain his master’s and Ph.D. in material science and engineering from the University of Tennessee. After completing his studies, Tsai worked as a researcher and professor in the fields of textiles and materials science, first at the University of Tennessee and later at the University of Texas at Austin.


In the late 1990s, Tsai began working on a project to develop a better mask for protection against airborne particles. He wanted to create a mask that was both effective and comfortable to wear, and that could filter out small particles like those found in viruses and bacteria. His research led him to create a new type of electrostatic filter that was capable of capturing particles as small as 0.3 microns in size.


Tsai’s invention was quickly recognized for its potential in the field of healthcare, particularly during outbreaks of infectious diseases like SARS and H1N1. In 1995, he submitted a patent for the N95 mask, which was granted in 1995. The mask quickly became an essential tool in healthcare settings, and its popularity has only grown in the years since its invention.


In addition to his work on the N95 mask, Tsai was also an accomplished researcher in the field of textiles and materials science. He published numerous papers on topics ranging from nanofibers to filtration materials, and he was a well-respected member of the scientific community. In 2020, he was awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, one of the highest honors given to scientists and engineers in the United States.


Sadly, Peter Tsai passed away in December 2020 at the age of 68. However, his legacy lives on in the N95 mask, which has played a crucial role in protecting healthcare workers and the general public during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tsai’s dedication to science and his commitment to creating a better world through his research will continue to inspire future generations of scientists and innovators.