as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers have mentioned the fact that using face masks has proven to be a problem when treating the deaf and hard of hearing. a couple of months ago, ashley lawrence — a college student studying education for the deaf and hard of hearing — designed a face mask with a clear window that allows others to see and read lips and facial expressions. shortly after publishing it, the article went viral receiving thousands of likes, shares and comments from people both impressed by the design as well as concerned by some issues like fog.


the thing that is true, and that many of us have experienced since we started using masks, is that speaking with people when half their face is hidden is difficult — you can’t hear them very well or comprehend their complete facial expressions. and for some segments of the population — children, the elderly and the hearing impaired — masks are an even major obstacle in communicating. that’s why a team of researchers from empa and EPFL’s EssentialTech center have developed a completely transparent surgical mask made from a biomass-based material and have created a startup called HMCARE to market it.

first fully transparent surgical mask soon to be produced on an industrial scale



called HelloMasks, these transparent masks are intended to replace the trim-fold green or white masks healthcare personnel usually wear. this protection could be worn by anyone, but the masks have been designed primarily to make contact between caregivers and patients less impersonal. the project started when klaus schönenberger — head of EPFL’s EssentialTech center — was working in western african during the 2015 ebola outbreak. ‘it was touching to see that nurses – covered from head to toe in protective gear – pinned photos of themselves on their chests so that patients could see their faces,’ he says.


‘you can find prototypes of masks that are partly transparent, but they’re just normal masks with some of the fabric replaced by clear plastic,’ says thierry pelet, CEO of HMCARE. because plastic isn’t porous, it makes it hard for the wearer to breathe and it also fogs up easily, like users suggested with the mask created by ashley lawrence. the Empa and EPFL researchers spent two years finding the right combination of transparency, resistance and porosity and eventually came up with a membrane made from a polymer developed specifically for this application.

first fully transparent surgical mask soon to be produced on an industrial scale



‘we can produce fine electrospun membranes with a pore size of about 100 nanometers,’ explains empa researcher giuseppino fortunato from the biomimetic membranes and textiles lab who developed the material together with empa researcher davide barana. the architecture of the fibers creates extremely small gaps that allow air to pass through but hold back viruses and bacteria.

first fully transparent surgical mask soon to be produced on an industrial scale



because the new masks will be disposable for optimal efficacy, like existing surgical masks, the researchers focused from the start on finding a material that was either recyclable or biodegradable. ‘our masks are made at 99% from a biomass derivative, and we’ll keep working on them until they’re completely eco-friendly,’ says pelet.


after raising CHF 1 million to develop the manufacturing process, the HMCARE transparent surgical masks will be soon produced on an industrial scale.



project info:


name: HelloMasks

type: fully transparent surgical mask

produced by: HMCARE

in collaboration: empa and EPFL’s EssentialTech