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EF Academy student obtains patent for a new surgical mask

As every changemaker knows, even the smallest changes can have big impacts. Many of the ways in which people make a difference go unsung, but every once in a while we come across someone whose impact is truly worth celebrating.

Last spring, as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe and brought drastic changes to the world, 10th grade student Bella got to work thinking of a way in which she could make a positive difference. While keeping up with distance learning at home in Italy at the height of lockdown, she and her father decided to make improvements on the standard surgical masks on the market. The result? A successfully patented mask that is now in circulation and helping reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Now, safely back on campus, we caught up with Bella to find out more about her extraordinary project, her love of science and her experience taking on a global pandemic.

Tell us about yourself.

I am Isabella. I’m Italian, a 10th grader, and this is my second year here at EF Academy New York. Honestly, I’m very passionate about all the classes I’m attending, however I have to admit that biology, physics, and art are all subjects that I am very passionate about. I am part of the Environmental Club, Book Club, and Film Club at EF Academy. I am not currently part of the Model United Nations (MUN) Club but I participated in a recent simulation.

Where did the idea to design a new surgical mask come from? 

The idea came when my dad and I wondered what we could do to improve surgical masks. The first thing I thought about was the ineffective sealing of the surgical masks, so we came up with a design that would make the filter more used, and thus a more functional and efficient mask. My only goal was to do something that would help people. Initially, I didn’t even think about the curriculum or the money I would have gained from the patent.

Can you take us through what designing the mask like?

I thought of adding a further flap of non-woven fabric on the upper part of a surgical mask, to prevent air escaping. (Without that flap, masks filter much less.) [My father and I] designed it, I made the drawings, and moreover he taught me how to write the patent. In this project the inventors were my dad and I. Now the masks with my patent are produced by other companies. In a few months there should be millions of masks in circulation with my patent.

How did you balance your school life with designing and patenting the mask?

Organizing myself between the patent and school work was a real challenge. I had many tasks and projects to follow but by giving up most of my social life and a few hours of sleep I managed to reach my goal. In biology, we were studying the digestive system. At the time we had not yet covered the respiratory system; all the information I found was thanks to the teachings of my dad and the Polytechnic University of Turin. Furthermore, my dad has one of the few laboratories for measuring masks Italy. I wanted to help him and understand more about his project on a new half masks for doctors. Since I lack his expertise, I thought I should go with a slightly smaller project and make some adjustments to surgical masks.

What’s the most valuable thing you learned from this experience?

That no matter the cost or effort I have to give, I will give my life to helping people and contribute to the field of science. These are things that make me feel alive, that make me want to get up the next day. I reverence science, knowledge, and I find it has helped me immensely during the worst times of my life. This experience has given me so much more than I could ever give, it helped me to sharpen the image of my identity.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

That the hedonic treadmill A.K.A. hedonic adaptation is a real thing. I will never be satisfied with my achievements in the sciences. However, I will always be eternally happy to have potentially helped millions of people.


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