making better masks

Physics professor at University of Houston puts nanotech to work to fight the spread of COVID-19

The new technology from University of Houston could make any mask more resistant to viruses. Photo courtesy of Seamus Curran/Integricote

The start of 2020, though most didn't know it at the time, meant a huge change to society. Though coronavirus didn't yet seem to be an issue for the United States, the world was entering into a new normal where wearing face masks in public is common and necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"We left normal in December," says Seamus Curran, a professor of physics at the University of Houston, "and, when everyone was planning their New Year's resolutions, little did we know that the old normal of before is gone. None of us saw that life passing away — and it was taken away by a bug 1,000 times smaller than lice. And like lice, it's going to be with us for a long time."

To that end, Curran, who is well-known for his work commercializing nanotechnologies, is pulling from his past to deal with a future demand. The professor is using a hydrophobic coating he developed nearly 10 years ago to improve the ability of surgical masks to protect against transmission of the virus.

It's no secret that good face masks are a dire, worldwide need. But Curran notes that standard masks are "somewhat porous, and especially if they get wet, they can allow the virus to penetrate." People infected with the virus, he adds, could spread it even through a mask, while people who aren't sick could still become infected, despite wearing a less-protective mask.

Curran calls N95 masks, "the gold standard, able to filter very small particles and offering better protection than standard surgical masks." But he notes that they are hard to manufacture, and global demand is for tens of millions of items. His work will make masks impervious to water, thus improving protection, he explains.

That means those who already own masks are in luck: Curran's team is planning to sell spray for the hydrophobic coatings so that people can apply it themselves at home or at work. "However, it's cheaper and far more effective to be able to apply it in large batch quantities that manufacturers can do," Curran adds.

The globally minded Curran has only one local requirement: "We will only sell to U.S. manufacturers that manufacture here in the U.S. It's not a limiting factor and may change in the future, but right now, I have to deal with my community here in Houston, Texas, and the U.S. It has to be my priority."

University of Houston's Dr. Seamus Curran. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

Curran and his team are working though the process to make sure their coatings are compliant with all federal rules. "Sometimes, this is making sure your materials are registered and allowed," he says. "Sometimes it's making sure the products follow relevant EPA and FDA guidelines. However, we are very close, as in weeks, and not some arbitrary academic timeline in the distant future."

He first launched a nanotechnology business in 2013, according to UH. His company, Integricote, based at the UH Technology Bridge, focuses on manufacturing sealers for masonry, wood, and concrete. The professor has developed nanotech coatings for fabrics since 2011, technology that he now is using to demonstrate a way to provide more protection against SARS and COVID-19.

Curran, who often says he hates to "play defense," hopes to get a jump on the virus spread with his new technology and take a proactive approach to a long-term issue. "Remember, H1N1 affected 61 million Americans and 12,500 people died from it between 2009 and 2010," he notes. "Do we think that's it? Did we think Ike was the last big hurricane to hit us, or do we expect more? Yet, we have compensated for this and found a way to be resilient and have a normal life."

Technical and scientific in his work, the passionate professor says he is galvanized by a simple, primal motive. "This is personal, this virus has threatened my family and I'm not sitting back, ideally, just letting this happen," Curran says. "I'm just like any other husband, father, son, brother, and uncle: I will do all I can to protect those dearest to me and I will not have it any other way."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

Why you should be offering your employees estate and legacy planning tools. Photo courtesy of The Postage

As priorities for employees have shifted as part of the Great Resignation the need for non-traditional benefits has continued to arise. Employees are expecting their personal and family wellness to be at the core of what their employers are offering. This is a big consideration when deciding to stay or leave a company. While HR professionals and employers are realizing they need to re-evaluate their benefits and how they keep top talent, there’s one key benefit that is typically missed that is a life necessity for all, estate and legacy planning.

Given today’s uber competitive talent market, there’s an opportunity for companies to embrace new benefits that go beyond the typical and support vital needs, such as financial wellness and estate planning. Taking the next step by providing and connecting employees with the right resources can make all the difference. Estate and legacy planning goes beyond creating a will, it’s about end to end care of life and legacy. It helps transition wealth and wisdom across generations. It handles your affairs, finances, your digital assets, protects your children and pets, and ensures your wishes are carried out if you are temporarily unavailable or permanently incapable of handling them. It’s as critical and as necessary as insurance yet is not typically included as a key employee benefit.

Why should you add estate and legacy planning as part of your employee benefits? Here’s the top three reasons to consider:

1. Create value for your employees and their families

Financial wellness and security are the utmost important for employees. In fact, it’s one of the most-valued benefits, based on a recent survey Morgan Stanley found that 90 percent of employees want their company to prioritize financial benefits. Are you going to be one of the 95 percent of HR executives that plan to do so? If so, there are multiple ways that a company can help its employees to build wealth and protect their financial security through traditional benefits such as retirement savings plans, health insurance, voluntary life, and disability insurance, and more. But additional benefits like estate and legacy planning should be a part of this assortment of benefits that support protecting employees and their families’ finances - by helping them build and protect their financial and personal legacies.

Employers can show that they value and support their employee’s financial success and security by providing tools and resources that make it simple to handle these historically daunting tasks and keep them organized throughout life, which allows employees to have peace of mind for their families’ future, financial and beyond.

2. Stand out among your competitors

Most employers do not provide legacy and estate planning services. Only 12 percent of employers provide these types of benefits, yet over 72 percent of those who are not offered estate planning services by their employer, would be interested in using them if offered. That’s a huge percentage of your employee population that would benefit from this service while differentiating you from other employers and provide an opportunity for your company to show just how much you value your employees’ futures.

3. Show you care about your employees

More people have begun to self-reflect on what is truly important to them as a part of the Great Resignation. Now, employee desires have evolved beyond a high salary with decent benefits. Employees want to feel valued beyond the work they do, and even further than that, they need an environment where their career, their loved ones, and their own being is supported. These psychological needs are translating into demands for companies to provide more thoughtful employee benefits packages.

A study conducted by Morgan Stanley shows how perceptions of employees and HR executives alike have transformed, with 9 in 10 HR executives saying their company needs to do a better job helping employees understand how to maximize their financial benefits. Proving to your employees that you care about them beyond the ‘now’beyond simply providing short-term benefits that exclusively affect them in the present day–leverages your company’s commitment to caring for your workers.

For people that struggle with organizing their property and wealth, estate planning can help visualize their total net worth. However, benefits that not only anticipate employees’ future financial needs but also organize their family network will drive continual engagement within your company and prove genuine care for your workers. For example, The Postage helps people plan their legacy. On top of estate planning, customers also have the ability to store and document important life events and memories, or even utilize our message planning feature where they can send timely notes to their family at a future date.

Employees want to feel valued beyond their work and taking the steps to help them build physical and financial legacies for both themselves and their loved ones will put your company one step ahead of everyone else. It is time for estate planning to join the conversation for employee benefits packages and helping employees proactively plan their future could be the cornerstone of attracting and retaining diverse talent.

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Emily Cisek is the founder and CEO of The Postage, a tech-enabled, easy-to-use estate planning tool.

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