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Vietnamese engineer works on vaccine patch, high-tech face mask

After inventing a biological mask with outstanding features, Dr Nguyen Duc Thanh, winner of many prestigious awards, and his co-workers are working on vaccine patches.


Dr Nguyen Duc Thanh


Thanh said Nguyen Lab, his research team at University of Connecticut, in 2018 was the first team announcing the creation of autolytic piezoelectric polymer sheet used in organ transplantation.

The research team made public its studies about nano film, including use to create sensors, ultrasonic vibration heads, and artificial tissues.

Protective mask

In 2020, as the world was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, Thanh and his research team thought about using nano film for a kind of special protective mask.

When Covid-19 broke out, Americans rushed to buy and store medical equipment, especially protective masks, which led to a mask shortage for medical workers. Many people complained they could not buy protective masks for themselves and family members.

When the mask supply improved, millions of medical masks were thrown away just after one use.

Most medical masks are made of synthetic polymer similar to plastic bags. So, disposed medical masks create billions of tons of waste that cannot decompose.

Medical masks are helpful, but they cannot prevent bacteria, viruses and fine dust as well as KN95 or N95 masks. But N95 masks are expensive and do not decompose.

Thanh and his co-workers decided to use autolytic polymer film to make masks with the filtration capability nearly the same as N95, but can be reused after sterilization with simple methods (autoclave or ultrasound). More importantly, they decompose after several years.

The nano film has been used in many medical products, but this is the first time it has been used to filter dust, bacteria and viruses.

According to Thanh, autolytic biological masks' piezoelectric effect of the nano film is the major difference from other masks.


Thanh has received a number of prestigious awards, including NIH Trailblazer Award for Young and Early Investigator 2017, 2018 SME Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer Award, MIT top innovators under 35 at Asia Pacific in 2019. He was named one of 10 outstanding Vietnamese young faces in 2019.


Thanks to the effect, the nano film inside the masks can create a small voltage layer when there is air flow (from breathing, sneezing of coughing).

The voltage creates an invisible protection layer, preventing the penetration of charged droplets of water bringing viruses and bacteria.

Nguyen Lab is still in the stage of researching and product packaging. It is also working to prepare for the establishment of a startup for product commercialization. Thanh hopes the masks will be used widely in one or two years.

The advantage of the product is that the nano polymer film allows a filtration capability nearly as high as N95 and higher than other medical masks.

Researchers said that the piezoelectric effect won’t be lost after sterilization or disinfection by using high temperature, high pressure or ultrasonic vibrations. The masks can used many times.




The special protective mask



Vaccine patch

Nguyen Lab has recently set to work on patches which can easily deliver the Covid-19 vaccine into the human body without injections by medical workers.

The technology promises a new method of distributing Covid-19 vaccine and other vaccines to the community quickly, without the need to go to medical centers.

The research on the vaccine patch has been published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, a prestigious journal, and has caught the attention of scientists.

“With these great medical achievements, including the Covid-19 vaccine, and the awareness of wearing protective masks regularly, I think the pandemic will be contained soon all over the world. And I hope I can contribute to the global efforts,” Thanh said.

Associate Prof Nguyen Duc Thanh was born in 1984. He was a student at the Hanoi University of Science and Technology. He won a scholarship from the Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF) in 2008 and obtained a doctorate in 2013 from Princeton University.

After that, he followed postdoc research at MIT. Later, he was appointed by University of Connecticut to the post of Assistant Professor in the Mechanical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering Faculties.

Thanh is now leading a research team in biomedical engineering and biomedical materials at the university.

The team conducts multidisciplinary research, with focus on applications in medicine, related to a wide range of fields including biomaterials, pharmaceuticals, vaccines, nanotechnology, regenerative medicine and medical electronics.

Thanh has received a number of prestigious awards, including NIH Trailblazer Award for Young and Early Investigator 2017, 2018 SME Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer Award, MIT top innovators under 35 at Asia Pacific in 2019. He was named one of 10 outstanding Vietnamese young faces in 2019. 

Ngan Anh


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