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Masks, Zoom and more: AAPI innovations that helped us through the COVID-19 pandemic

May is AAPI Heritage month, so we're taking a moment to highlight some of the contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

TAMPA, Fla. — May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, an important time to recognize the history and achievements of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

This past year has been tough for the Asian community, with a rise in violent crimes and harassment against Asians attributed to COVID-19. Harmful rhetoric blamed Asians for bringing the virus to the United States and spreading it, but inventions and innovations from the Asian community have helped people through the pandemic as they've donned masks, loaded up on cleaning supplies and started working and learning from home.

Invention of the N95 mask

One of the most synonymous symbols of COVID-19 has been the wearing of masks. The mask worn most by health care professionals on the front lines has been the N95 mask. 

The N95 mask was developed by Peter Tsai, a Taiwanese American. He came from Taiwan in 1981 to study at Kansas State University. After his education, he eventually became a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

While there, he led a research team that created the N95 material, able to trap 95 percent of particles like viruses, bacteria and dust because of the negative and positive charges in fabric. He partnered with 3M to create a mask to be used by healthcare professionals.

Tsai retired in 2018, but when the pandemic hit, he came out of retirement to help find ways to disinfect the N95 masks, which were in short supply.

Development of Zoom

Many of us have used the video conferencing platform Zoom to keep in touch with friends and family, conduct work meetings and take classes virtually. The company and platform were founded by Eric Yuan. Yuan was born in the Shandong province of China. He moved to Silicon Valley in 1997 to get started in American tech.

Inspired by his long-distance relationship with his girlfriend, Yuan wanted to create a smartphone-friendly video conferencing platform. The company he was working for, Cisco, turned down his idea, so Yuan left to start Zoom in 2011. The company is now worth more than $35 billion.

Staying connected through fiber optics

So many of us have relied on the internet to stay connected to friends, family, work and school. One incredibly important aspect of fast connection speeds and data transfer is fiber optic technology. Narinder Singh Kapany is known as "The Father of Fiber Optics," advancing the technology as a founder of several companies and through his research. 

Kapany was born in India but later moved to the United States to continue his work. In 1953, while working at Imperial College, he became the first to transmit high-quality images through a bundle of optical fibers.

His research spans fiber-optic communication, biomedical instruments, lasers and pollution monitoring.

Healthcare on the front lines

Doctors and nurses have been on the front lines, taking care of the sickest COVID-19 patients in the nation's hospitals. Asian Americans only represent 6 percent of the country's population but account for 18 percent of the country's doctors and 10 percent of all nurse practitioners.

So many more Asian-Americans are working to fight COVID-19.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office is hosting a panel to highlight more contributions of AAPI innovators.

Alice Min Soo Chun is the CEO and Founder of Solight Design and SEEUS95 Inc., inventing the first self-attaching transparent N95 mask to reduce the irritation of PPE.

Yiran Isabella Yang focuses on wearable sweat sensors and microfluidics for non-invasive health monitoring.

Kevin Tyan, Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Kinnos
Tyan is the co-inventor of Highlight, a powdered additive that colorizes disinfectants blue for improved visibility and coverage and fades to clear when decontamination is complete.

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