Café des Sciences: MaskTech – Science Revolution for Global Health

Learn more about mask technology, the latest innovations and the Swiss ReMask project: with speakers from Empa, HEIQ and Helvitek Labs.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the widespread use of face masks by the general public to impede the transmission of the novel coronavirus. In Europe, many nations have recently issued advisories to wear a mask in certain public settings. In Asia, the use of face masks was already ubiquitous before the outbreak of the virus: either as part of “social courtesy” (reducing the chance of spreading airborne diseases to others), to safeguard against dust particles or as part of the youth culture. However, the recent spread of COVID-19 has triggered a shortage of masks and the urgency of supplies, a situation which poses new challenges for nations and mask producers around the world.

In order to equip Switzerland efficiently with protective material during the coronavirus pandemic, Empa researchers are working on the “ReMask” project together with a nationwide team from research, healthcare and industry. New types of masks and technologies for reusing existing protective materials are being developed – for now, but also for future pandemics. In addition, new analytical methods using virus-mimicking structures are currently being set-up to understand the absorption and diffusion kinetics of the virus through textiles. Prof. Dr. René Rossi, Head of Laboratory for Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles, is part of the research group and will join our event as an online speaker. He will provide an interesting insight into the project commissioned by the “National COVID-19 Science Task Force” of the Swiss Confederation and the ongoing research efforts in facemask development.

This will be followed by a presentation from Celine Huang, representative of HEIQ, as our first on-site speaker after the virus-related interruption. The company’s slogan – Swiss Tech inside – sums it up: The ETH Zurich spin-off is committed to making a comeback in “Swiss innovation in textiles”. Celine will be joined by Carlo Centonze, Co-founder of HEIQ, and talk about the latest product launch, HeiQ Viroblock NPJ03, the technology behind it and also on how HEIQ is actively working towards a more efficient and ecological production.

The third presentation will be given by Théo-Tim Denisart, Founder of Helvitek Labs. Based at EPFL, he founded the startup in 2019 with Roberto Costa, former marketing director at Swatch. In view of the current situation, Helvitek Labs modified its activities, moving from anti-pollution masks to supplying health care personnel with novel facial structures to prevent injuries caused by prolonged use of respiratory masks. Théo will join online and talk about the company’s newest launch, the Skin Protective Layer.

The event will conclude with a Q&A session with room for discussion.

Event Rundown

19:00 – 19:05                Opening Remarks
(Florian Moeri – Project Coordinator at Swissnex in China)


19:05 – 19:20                Presentation: “Smart fiber technologies for the development of innovative facemasks”
(Prof. Dr. René Rossi – Head of Laboratory for Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles at Empa)


19:20 – 19:35                Presentation on HEIQ
(Carlo Centonze – Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at HEIQ Group

Celine Huang – Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for Greater China at HEIQ)


19:35 – 19:50                Presentation: ” Next Generation of Urban Masks”
(Théo-Tim Denisart – Co-Founder of Helvitek Labs)


19:50 – 20:10               Q&A Session



Laboratory for Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles at Empa

The laboratory, a part of Empa, aims at the development of materials and systems for the protection and optimal performance of the human body. A special focus is to analyze the interactions between materials and human skin, as well as to optimize the protection and ergonomics of systems. The products developed in collaboration with industry are used in the fields of occupational safety (accident prevention), sport and medical applications. Non-invasive materials and systems to help maintain the physical integrity or to relieve pain are key topics.


ETH Zurich spin-off, founded in 2005 by Carlo Centonze & Dr Murray Height

HeiQ is a three-in-one company: Scientific research, Specialty materials manufacturing and Consumer ingredient branding. With a focus on chemicals, HEIQ develops and manufactures high-performance textile effects for brands like Adidas, Mammut, On Running and IKEA. Currently most noticed is their intelligent Swiss textile technology for masks: HeiQ Viroblock NPJ03 is added to the fabric during the final stage of the textile manufacturing process. This results in a significantly improved reduction in virus infectivity (> 99.99% based on mask studies) compared to untreated control masks.


Helvitek Labs
EPFL spin-off, founded in 2019 by Théo-Tim Denisart and Roberto Costa

Helvitek Labs is a Lausanne-based startup. The wish to create a new generation of urban anti-pollution masks came after experiencing numerous trips to China where the two founders came face to face with the deadly issue of fine particle pollution. The firm very rapidly received encouragement and support which was reflected in numerous grants. These awards allowed the company to rapidly achieve the credibility needed to launch the venture and obtain the funds to set up in the EPFL Innovation Park and assemble a team.

In partnership with

Café des Sciences

Café des Sciences is a new format at Swissnex in China offering a monthly platform for Swiss Spotlight Scientists and Startups to present their projects and connect with the local community. The lectures will offer a casual setting in which speakers can present their work and engage with the attendees during a Q&A period. Audiences are welcomed to enjoy the networking reception with Swiss flavour after the talk. The lecture is scheduled to take place every third Thursday each month at Swissnex in China or our partner spaces.