The coronavirus pandemic has made the N95 mask, a particle filtering face covering that has long been used to protect wearers from inhaling or exhaling pathogens, a celebrity. (The "95" refers to the fact that it can block 95 percent of the airborne particles.)
Like most nondescript and ubiquitous products, not many people think about where they come from. Due to the attention given to him as a key instrument in the fight of medical professionals against the coronavirus, the woman behind the mask has now come to the fore. Her name is Sara Little Turnbull and she designed the N95 based on the shape of a bra cup.
Turnbull worked as a design consultant with 3M in their gift packaging and fabric division in 1
Turnbull didn't stop there. She saw endless potential in shapes and gathered an audience of 3M executives to present a range of ideas for products – over 100 in total. The gathering was sparked by Turnbull's fascination with a molded material that retained its shape. In the presentation entitled "Why", she impressed 3M with the potential of the material. The company quickly asked her to work on a design for a molded bra cup.
But Turnbull had another, more important idea. At that time, she looked after three sick family members who were looked after by doctors. Turnbull was often in a medical setting and noticed that healthcare workers were constantly adjusting thin masks that were tied behind their backs. She returned to 3M with the idea of using the same molding material to make a mask that fits the face more comfortably.
Again, 3M saw potential in Turnbull's idea. By 1961 they had patented a light mask based on their concept, with rubber bands instead of cords and a form-fitting shape. It came on the market in 1972 and was suitable for industrial use. With the development of the filtration of the mask, its use also developed. In 1995 the N95 mask was introduced in healthcare.
Although Turnbull had been relegated to an inconspicuous part of 3M, she had an extensive background in design, graduated from the Parsons School of Design in 1939, and later became the decorating editor of House Beautiful magazine . After Turnbull wrote an article putting companies on trial for failing to design end-user-friendly products, 3M discontinued it. As a consultant, she has worked with Corning, Revlon, General Mills and Ford, among others.
After Turnbull's death in 2015, the Sara Little Turnbull Foundation was founded to support women in the design field and provide access to Turnbulls' large library of work. The "little one" was recognized in recognition of its size. At 4 feet 11 inches tall, Turnbull wasn't physically impressive. But their contributions were gigantic.