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University of Tennessee researchers receive international honors for work against COVID-19

The Association of University Technology Managers' Better World Project named the UT Research Foundation for its 2020 Legend Award.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Researchers at the University of Tennessee received an international honor for their work which helped prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The Association of University Technology Managers' Better World Project named the UT Research Foundation as its 2020 Legend Award honoree, spotlighting its work to help researchers safely study dangerous viruses and on the development of N95 respirators.

Dr. Peter Tsai was highlighted as the architect behind the N95 respirator. He is a retired professor from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at UT and has a 25-year-long partnership with the research foundation.

Tsai came out of retirement to share his expertise with many companies that wanted to produce his designs or to scale up production. The masks helped prevent the spread of COVID-19 and became a crucial part of PPE in organizations across the U.S.

“Dr. Peter Tsai is a hero of the COVID-19 pandemic," said Dr. Maha Krishnamurthy, the UTRF Vice President. "While his original research was critical in the creation of the N95 respirator, it has been his continued contributions to the field that showcase the high-caliber of researchers and innovations we have coming out of UT and into the market.”

The Better World Project also spotlighted work from Dr. Michael Whitt. He developed and patented a reverse genetics system that allowed researchers to study dangerous viruses in safer conditions.

His work helped develop vaccines against COVID-19. Officials said both Moderna and Pfizer use his work to test vaccines. More than 170 companies and universities in more than 30 counties also used the work during the pandemic, according to a release from officials.