The Mask Genius

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The Mask Genius

The Mask Genius was a year-long project and was my first published app on the Apple App Store. I created this app with the health of my community in mind— I hoped to create an interactive resource for people of all ages to learn about the effectiveness of masks.


The Mask Genius was published in December 2020 through the San Mateo County Health Department and was included in a multi-county Bay Area campaign, Crushing the Curve, to promote well-being and safety in the Bay Area.  

The Goal

The goal for my app, Mask Genius, is to encourage everyone to wear masks during the pandemic by providing scientific data about masks. I obtained permission from the American Chemical Society (ACS) to use information from a research paper that they published about mask filtration efficiency. Based on data from that paper, I created a game, animations, and user-friendly infographics so that everyone can understand the importance of wearing a mask.


Why did I decide to create The Mask Genius? At the beginning of the pandemic, there were a lot of unknowns regarding the spread and danger of COVID-19. As counties shut down, my family and I tried to figure out the best ways to keep ourselves safe during necessary tasks, like going to the grocery store. One piece of advice that was recommended by some health officials and scientists, and yet disregarded by many people, was to wear a mask or a face covering. This disagreement about the use of masks made me wonder: do masks really filter out viruses like COVID-19? I wanted to learn more about how effective masks are; I didn’t want to rely solely on what people say about mask effectiveness in the news. Therefore, when researching for more scientific data, I found a research paper, “Aerosol Filtration Efficiency of Common Fabrics Used in Respiratory Cloth Masks,” published by the American Chemical Society (ACS). After reading this paper, I was convinced that there is indeed scientific evidence that masks can protect us from the virus.


I began to think about how others could benefit from learning about mask effectiveness too, and I realized that an app would be a great way to make people aware of scientific data in an interactive way. Additionally, when schools were thinking of reopening in the fall, I thought about how all the students should know the importance of wearing a mask to keep everyone safe— not just teachers, faculty, and fellow students, but also their families at home.


After completing my app, I wanted to see how I could reach the largest audience. I reached out to the San Mateo County Health Department and pitched my app to them, and they loved the app! Over the course of four months, they worked with me to publish my app to the Apple App Store and to contribute to the Crushing the Curve campaign run by four Bay Area counties, including San Mateo County. This campaign aligned with my goal for my app because it focused on keeping everyone in the community, especially young adults, safe and connected during the pandemic. The Mask Genius was released to the public in December of 2020.


San Mateo County Health

I first tried to publish my app by myself on the Apple App Store. However, Apple has a policy where any apps that contain information on COVID-19 or the pandemic, in general, must be published by a government or health institution.


At first, I was a bit lost on how I could spread my app by myself, but one day, I saw a van in San Francisco that advertised the Crushing The Curve Campaign. Looking it up online, I realized that their mission (to keep the Bay Area community safe and connected during the pandemic) aligned with my goal with my app. I then decided to contact the San Francisco health department and offered to pitch my app to them. Unfortunately, they notified me that they were not willing to work with me, but I was not discouraged! I decided to contact the San Mateo County Health Department, the county in which my school resides. Only a week later after contacting them (which included sending them my pitch video), I had gotten a response from a health official, and she offered to set up a meeting to learn more about my app. After a successful meeting, she was impressed by my work and wanted to connect me with the tech department of SMCHealth.


After yet another meeting and some more back-and-forth emails with representatives from both the San Mateo County Health and the technical department, I had created a GitHub repository to make final changes. We finally published the app in late December of 2021 through the San Mateo County Health Apple developer account, almost six months after I first started working on the app. My work was soon featured in a San Mateo County Health meeting. Also, the first health official that contacted me wanted to include me in the Crushing The Curve Campaign. She also reached out to the head of school at my high school to commend me on my work.

Crushing The Curve

School Feature

In a school-wide information email blast, I was featured in the Shout out: Recognizing Crystal Community Members section!


"Alison Soong ‘23 created The Mask Genius App to help improve masking habits during the pandemic.


A San Mateo County Health Official contacted Head of School Kelly Sortino to commend Alison Soong '23, who created  The Masked Genius App to help educate people on all aspects of mask use during the pandemic. Alison partnered with the County of San Mateo's Health Information Technology team to receive the governmental approval required for the public use of her app. Alison’s story will also be included in the Crushing the Curve campaign built by young people across the Bay Area region."

Congressional App Challenge

I eventually submitted my app to the Congressional App Challenge in November, specifically for California's 14th District represented by Congresswoman Jackie Speier. I was commended by her and her office for my work on addressing community health, receiving an honorable mention.


The Game

The game promotes the use of masks in everyday life. It takes users through realistic situations, such as getting restaurant takeout or going for a walk with friends, and they can gain points by putting themselves at lower risk for exposure. In each situation, there are options to wear an N95 mask, a surgical mask, a cotton mask, or no mask. This game also allows users to learn about their decisions and see how much risk they put themselves in. The “risk factor” is determined by a formula that I created. It takes into account two factors: what kind of mask they chose (by using the filtration efficiency data from the ACS research paper) and the situation’s general risk (based on a scale created by the Texas Medical Association that quantifies the risk level of daily activities).


Visualizing the Effectiveness of Masks

I have included descriptions of the filtration efficiencies of N95, surgical, cotton, and hybrid masks. I also created a page full of interactive animations. The animations depict particles of different sizes getting blocked by or passing through three different masks, thus showing how effective each mask is at filtering out particles in the air. Users can choose which mask is being simulated, and they can put the mask up to the test against aerosol, droplets, or both particle sizes at the same time.



Additionally, I provide safety tips, an explanation of the difference between aerosol and droplets, and information on the spread of the virus. There are also links to other important websites such as the CDC website to get more information on how to stay safe.

Project Timeline: 2020

Late April:

After reading a newly published study about masks and their filtering capabilities, I come up with the idea of creating an iOS app to share what I learned with my community!


Thoroughly equipped with the technical skills needed for app development, I create The Mask Genius!

Late December:

The Mask Genius is published on the Apple App Store through San Mateo County Health's app developer account! My app is also included in the Crushing The Curve Campaign.


Lockdown starts. I begin to research about ways to stay safe!

Early June:

I seek out online resources and begin teaching myself about app development, Xcode, and coding in Swift.


I attempt to publish my finished app on the Apple App Store. Due to Apple policies surrounding COVID-19 related information, I was required to publish my app through a health or government organization's app developer account. This led me to reach out to San Mateo County Health, pitch my app to them, and ultimately collaborate with them in publishing my app through their account!