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.

Event Details


Zoom Webinar


[Webinar] June 18, 2020, 19:00 - 20:10 (China) / 13:00 - 14:10 (Switzerland)


Free Event, RSVP Required

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 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




Prof. Dr. René Rossi
Head of Laboratory for Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles at Empa

René Rossi has been working at Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology for over 25 years in the field of the interactions between materials and the human skin. He studied physics and obtained his PhD at ETH Zurich. Since 2003, René Rossi has been leading the Laboratory for Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles at Empa, a group of around 40 researchers developing new materials and systems for the improvement of health and performance of the human body. He is adjunct professor at the Department of Health Sciences and Technology at ETH Zurich and Guest Professor at the University of Haute-Alsace in Mulhouse/France. Among other things, he is part of the COVID-19 Science Task Force of the Swiss Confederation, which is responsible for the further development of protective and breathing masks.


Carlo Centonze
Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at HEIQ Group

Carlo studied Biology and Forest Engineering at ETH Zurich. He earned his Executive MBA at the University of St.Gallen. After his service as army pilot he started his professional career as co-founder of the ETH Spin-off Myclimate, today one of the world’s leading providers of carbon offsetting measures. Since 2004, he serves HeiQ as CEO, developing the firm from a two employee company to a 40 employee company. Founded in 2005 as a ETH Zurich spin-off, HeiQ is a leader in textile innovation creating some of the most effective, durable and high-performance textile technologies on the market today.


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

Celine works for HEIQ since 2019 and is leading the company’s Greater China business from the newly created Shanghai office. Prior she was already engaged in similar fields: as General Manager, Greater China, for DyStar (2013 – 2014) and Senior Sales & Technical Manager, Greater China, for SNF (2015 – 2019). With her background, she combines a total of over 20 years of solid testing lab, agent and country strategies management expertise with strong relationships to customers, distributors, dealers and end users. She has a chemical engineering degree in dyeing and finishing from China Textile University. Huang has worked in both Australia and China in senior management positions.


Théo-Tim Denisart
Co-Founder of Helvitek Labs

Théo holds two master’s degrees from EPFL: one in mechanical engineering and one in Management of Technology and Entrepreneurship. In his studies he specialized in design and production. Further stations in his academic career were an exchange course at the University of Sydney and an intensive language course at Shanghai Normal University. Before co-founding Helvitek Lab in 2019, he worked as an Assistant Research Engineer at USC Viterbi School of Engineering.




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:


Empa – Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology
An interdisciplinary research institute of the ETH Domain (Institution of the Swiss Federation)

As an interdisciplinary research institute of the ETH Domain, Empa conducts cutting-edge materials and technology research. The activities focus on meeting the requirements of industry and the needs of society, and thus link applications-oriented research to the practical implementation of new ideas in the areas of nanostructured, “smart” materials and surfaces, environmental, energy and sustainable building technologies as well as biotechnology and medical technology.


ETH Zurich

ETH Zurich is one of the leading technical and scientific universities. It is well-known for its excellent teaching, pioneering fundamental research, and the direct transfer of new findings to real-world applications. The ETH Zurich provides an inspiring environment for researchers, and a comprehensive education for students. ETH Zurich is regularly identified as one of the world’s best universities, in international rankings. 21 Nobel laureates have studied, taught or done their research here. The innovations of the university flow into the most forward-looking sectors, from informatics to micro- and nanotechnology, or high-tech medical equipment. A total of 407 spin-off companies since 1996, about 100 patent applications each year, and around 1,500 collaborations with businesses worldwide and in Switzerland all go to show how successful ETH Zurich is in imparting its knowledge to industry and society.



EPFL is a young, dynamic university, which is committed to three important tasks: teaching, research and innovation. The high quality of its fundamental and applied research is particularly demonstrated by the considerable quantity of ERC grants obtained by EPFL researchers. Or also by ambitious scientific projects and sustainable innovations such as the transparent-dye solar cells, the solarpowered aircraft Solar Impulse, or the ultra-fast yacht Hydroptère. EPFL has been growing steadily since 1969, when it became a federal institution. Various rankings underline the progress made and the high standards. Between 2010 and 2017, EPFL had gained 20 places in the QS World Ranking and more than 10 places in the THE World Ranking. EPFL has moved up to 9th place in the THE Europe ranking. Another area of expertise is partnerships and projects that ensure its scientific and social impact. The campus is also home to the EPFL Innovation Park with around 140 start-ups and research centres run by renowned companies. 25 spin-offs were founded in 2018, which had acquired total funding of CHF 217m.


Café des Sciences

Shanghai | Every third Thursday each month

Café des Sciences is a new format at swissnex 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 China or our partner spaces. To view past events, please click here.