Physics Grad Student Shows How Cotton Candy Machines Can Make N95 Masks

Breakthrough research would turn normal plastic into Covid-19 protection.

A person in latex gloves making pink cotton candy on a stick
Photo: delihayat via Getty Images

With amusement park operations shut down (or at least drastically scaled back) and many state fairs cancelled, there have been a lot of cotton candy machines sitting around without much of a purpose in 2020. But if recent research holds up, it turns out your typical cotton candy machine might be much more of a lifesaving tool than anyone would've ever expected.

The breakthrough comes courtesy of Mahesh Bandi, a graduate student in physics at the Okinawa Institute of Science. According to Bandi's published findings, there's reason to believe that regular plastic that would otherwise be recycled (or worse, thrown away) can be transformed into the materials needed to make a viable N95 mask with a little help from a minimally-modified cotton candy machine.

There's a bit of complicated physics involved, but essentially, taking this "regular" plastic, heating it up to a high temperature and using the centrifugal force generated in the production of cotton candy can turn the plastic into a fine mesh. The key for N95 mask making though is that spinning the particles in the metal drum of a cotton candy machine gives them an electrical charge. This electrically charged mesh is a bit "stickier" and effective when it comes to blocking the viral particles that a mask aims to keep out of your lungs.

This isn't mere conjecture, either. Bandi conducted a microscopic analysis that showed the efficacy of these masks is comparable to N95s you'd find on the market. Unfortunately, the fact that you'd need a 3D printer to make the mask design could be an obstacle to instantly churning out masks. Even still, it's encouraging that there's a potential new avenue for producing effective N95 masks using a fairly common piece of food service equipment that hasn't seen much action lately. If this little theory gets put to use, maybe it means we can all enjoy some cotton candy together again that much sooner.

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