Peter Tsai, who invented the filter material used in N95 masks, has emerged from retirement, saying he felt a “responsibility to help” amid a flurry of questions about how to use the technology.
Since coming out of retirement in March, Tsai has been at the forefront of developing new ways to sterilize the masks’ disposable respirators and increase production.
“I felt very stressed in the very beginning,” he told the Knoxville News Sentinel. “I got a lot of pressure and a lot of questions.”
Tsai was able to reach out to other researchers as well as interdisciplinary research group N95DECON, which tested several of his suggestions for how to sterilize the masks, eventually recommending some of his approaches.
Tsai added that since the beginning of the pandemic, he has lost 10 pounds, quipping, “Someone said I should get a Nobel Prize. But what I deserve is a ‘No Belly’ prize.”
Tsai has become a folk hero among some Asian Americans due to his work against the coronavirus pandemic at a time when the community increasingly reports being attacked by people who blame them for it.
He's a Taiwanese American who came to the U.S. in 1981 to earn his doctorate.
Tsai told NBC Asian America he has experienced some discrimination himself in the past.
"I did encounter something like this," he said, "but I just do my work, and I think what I do is good for the community. My technology is good for humans, then no matter how they treat me I did not care that much."