Inventor of N95 mask technology comes out of retirement amid pandemic

Peter Tsai, who invented the technology for the N95 mask, has come out of retirement for another career-defining moment: He’s helping to preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) during the coronavirus pandemic. If he didn’t, he tells Yahoo Life, “I would regret it for the rest of my life.”

Video Transcript

PETER TSAI: If I can help and I do not help, I will regret in the rest of my life, you know, obviously, because people are dying.


I grew up in Taiwan. When I was a kid, I helped my family do the farming. So I did not even know, you know, obviously, what kind of topic I would choose for my career.

Then I came to the US for my graduate studies. I joined the Textile Research Center at the University of Tennessee to help the companies to develop new products. I invented the technology to do that for selective charges.

During our time, I did not know, you know, that N95 respirators would be used to protect the health against a virus. But because the first time these kind of respirator was for construction workers to protect them when they worked in dusty environments. But about 1996, CDC, I think they did the test that this respirator can also block the majority of the airborne disease.

When the COVID-19 happens, then lots of people tried to find information about respirators. So they sent me emails asking questions. And then saw a lot of emails. And telephone calls came in every day, too many for me to handle.

So I talked to the university. You know, I need to compile all these questions into an article. And the university said, yes, that's a good idea. So they hired me back at 10% [LAUGHS] [INAUDIBLE].


People told me that they want to nominate me to get the Nobel Prize. I said, I lost the weight, so I don't have a belly, so I deserve a No-belly Prize so. [LAUGHS] I hope this pandemic can be over pretty soon and so we can come back our normal life. So working people go to work. And the retired people can enjoy their time and so. [LAUGHS]

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