Scientists discover facemask which can detect viral exposure within 10 minutes
20 September, 2022 | Vaishali Sharma
Scientists have devised a face mask that can detect common respiratory viruses in the air as droplets or aerosols, such as influenza and Covid-19. If particular viruses are detected in the ambient ...
Scientists have devised a face mask that can detect common respiratory viruses in the air as droplets or aerosols, such as influenza and Covid-19. If particular viruses are detected in the ambient air, the incredibly sensitive mask may notify wearers within 10 minutes via their mobile devices.
“Previous research has shown face mask wearing can reduce the risk of spreading and contracting the disease. So, we wanted to create a mask that can detect the presence of virus in the air and alert the wearer,” says Yin Fang, the study’s corresponding author and a material scientist at Shanghai Tongji University. Respiratory pathogens that cause COVID-19 and H1N1 influenza spread through small droplets and aerosols released by infected people when they talk, cough, and sneeze. These virus-containing molecules, especially tiny aerosols, can remain suspended in the air for a long time.
Fang and his colleagues put the mask through its paces in an enclosed laboratory by spraying the viral surface protein with trace-level fluids and aerosols. According to Fang, the sensor responded to as little as 0.3 microliters of viral protein-containing liquid, which is around 70 to 560 times less than the volume of liquid generated in a single sneeze and considerably less than the volume produced by coughing or talking.
The researchers created a miniature sensor using aptamers, which are synthetic molecules that can recognise certain proteins in infections, such as antibodies. The scientists upgraded the multi-channel sensor in their proof-of-concept design with three types of aptamers that can identify surface proteins on SARS-CoV-2, H5N1, and H1N1.
When the aptamers attach to the target proteins in the air, the associated ion-gated transistor amplifies the signal and alerts the wearers via their phones. Because an ion-gated transistor is an unique and very sensitive gadget, the mask can detect even trace quantities of viruses in the air within 10 minutes.
“Our mask would work really well in spaces with poor ventilation, such as elevators or enclosed rooms, where the risk of getting infected is high,” Fang says. In the future, if a new respiratory virus emerges, they can easily update the sensor’s design for detecting the novel pathogens, he adds.
Next, the team hopes to shorten the detection time and further increase the sensitivity of the sensor by optimizing the design of the polymers and transistors. They are also working on wearable devices for a variety of health conditions including cancers and cardiovascular diseases.
“Currently, doctors have been relying heavily on their experiences in diagnosing and treating diseases. But with richer data collected by wearable devices, disease diagnosis and treatment can become more precise,” Fang says.