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Phil McDivitt holding his company's antiviral mask. | Image: Ascend Performance Materials

How does the CEO of a performance chemicals company help fight the COVID-19 pandemic? By finding a way to manufacture masks with antiviral material. Phil McDivitt ’87, president and CEO of Ascend Performance Materials, is working to develop comfortable, sustainable and durable materials that not only fight against COVID-19 but also are already used in hundreds of applications, from activewear to airbags.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, McDivitt and his team determined through research and testing that they had created the first antiviral material, a technology called Acteev™, currently being manufactured for the production of face masks.

“We have been working on this technology for about four years,” said McDivitt, a graduate of the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering. “Made from nylon 6-6, it is cooling, moisture-wicking and it doesn’t grow bacteria, so it’s an odorless product. We began developing it for antibacterial purposes. When we started to hear about COVID-19 in China, we had our material tested against a number of viruses. With every virus tested, they all became deactivated after coming in contact with this material.”

The key to forming this textile is infusing it with zinc oxide, which is built into the material’s polymer matrix. It deactivates the virus by disrupting the virus’ cell wall while also preventing the virus from connecting to cells in your body.

The antiviral mask is 99.99% effective in deactivating SARS-CoV-2 (which causes COVID-19), Human Corona Virus 229E, H1N1 and Beta Corona Virus OC43 upon contact. The integration of zinc oxide into the polymer matrix means textiles like masks made with Acteev™ are self-cleaning and reusable, because the zinc oxide remains in the mask even after washing and multiple uses.

Ascend is currently working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to obtain registrations necessary to promote the technology’s antiviral properties publicly. 

For McDivitt, Texas A&M is embroidered into the very fabric of his life. As he continues to make the world a safer place, he contributes many of his accomplishments to the lessons he learned during his time at the university.

“The foundational element that you are given at A&M is simple — try,” McDivitt said. “There is a constant aspiration to try and change the world, and I think that’s exactly what most Aggies do.”