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Local Company Donates Innovative, Breathable Face Masks for Commencement

Jeancarlo Ferman, in the foreground, and Gabriel Montague, in the background, wear their red commencement robes and mortar boards, stoles and red face masks outside. 

As more than 6,700 students earn degrees this spring, their commencement regalia will include red and black robes, mortar boards and matching face masks that grew from NC State innovation. 

Thousands of high-quality face masks are being donated by Aries USA, a company led by Chris Evans. Evans studied electrical and computer engineering at NC State in the 1980s. He helped found the Wolfpack Investor Network and currently serves on the NC State Entrepreneurship advisory board and the Chancellor’s Innovation Fund selection committee. Aries’ face masks are made out of the unique spunbond material that the Nonwovens Institute (NWI) created in 2020 to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“It’s a big innovation, and a lot of what I’ve been doing all my life is getting innovations to market,” Evans said. 

Aries made proprietary improvements to the fabric, marketed under the brand name Captur™. The face masks meet the new F3502 Barrier Face Covering standard established by ASTM International, an organization that develops health, safety and  product standards around the world. The standard applies to masks’ fit, air leak, airflow resistance and filtration efficiency. 

The material created by NWI is made out of two different polymer materials, which are combined to make a single fiber. This unique combination can provide over 95% filtration efficiency. Cloth face masks, in contrast, typically have a filtration efficiency of less than 30%. Because NWI’s material uses a single layer, it has the comfort and breathability of a cloth face mask but superior protection against viruses and bacteria. And because the material is so durable, Aries’ face masks can be worn for 40 hours of wear without any reduction in filtration.

Gabriel Montague makes wolf hands outside while wearing his red undergraduate regalia and a matching red face mask. 
Gabriel Montague, who’s earning his bachelor’s degree in Statistics, holds up wolf hands in his undergraduate regalia and a face mask donated by Aries USA. 

“Our deep knowledge base at the Nonwovens Institute allowed us to quickly develop this material at the start of the pandemic,” said Behnam Pourdeyhimi, executive director of NWI. “It is amazing to see the impact our material has in protecting people against COVID-19.”

Exclusively for NC State commencement, a limited run of red mask material was created and purchased by Aries for donation; graduates receiving bachelor’s degrees will get red face masks, and graduates receiving master’s degrees and doctorates will receive charcoal black masks. Masks will also be available for faculty, staff and other commencement guests.

Using American-made materials was important to Evans, especially as the pandemic caused supply delays across the globe. The thick, sturdy nose wire inside the face masks is made in the United States. It offers improved fit to reduce air leakage and helps prevent fogging glasses. The soft ear loops are made in North Carolina.

“It’s important to know where your sources are and how you can connect with them,” Evans said. “This is an opportunity to change what 21st-century manufacturing jobs look like and to create sustainable business models.” 

Just as important, though, was investing in NC State and embracing the Think and Do mentality. It’s something the class of 2021 has embodied as they completed their degrees during a global pandemic, dealing with remote classes and social distancing and health challenges.

“The fabric comes from NC State,” Evans said. “It seems only right that these graduates be some of the first to experience the masks.”

This post was originally published in NC State News.