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This New Face Mask Can Tell You If There’s COVID Or Any Other Virus In The Air

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Researchers have developed a face mask that can identify common respiratory viruses, such as the coronavirus and influenza, in the air as droplets or aerosols. The highly sensitive mask, which was disclosed today in the journal Matter, can notify its users within 10 minutes via their mobile devices if a certain pathogen is present in the air around them.

“Previous research has shown face mask wearing can reduce the risk of spreading and contracting the disease,” says study’s author Yin Fang. So, they “wanted to create a mask that can detect the presence of virus in the air and alert the wearer.”

When an infected person talks, coughs, or sneezes, respiratory bacteria that cause COVID-19 and H1N1 influenza emit minute droplets and aerosols into the air. These virus-containing molecules, particularly the small aerosols, have a long suspension duration in the atmosphere.

Fang and his colleagues examined the mask in an enclosed chamber by spraying it with trace-level liquid and aerosols carrying the viral surface protein. According to Fang, the sensor responded to as little as 0.3 microliters of liquid containing viral proteins, which is a lot less than the volume of liquid created by coughing or talking and between 70 and 560 times less than the volume produced by a single sneeze.

Aptamers, a kind of synthetic molecules that can detect particular proteins of pathogens like antibodies, were used by the team to create a tiny sensor. The team changed the multi-channel sensor in their proof-of-concept design so that it could simultaneously capture the surface proteins on the SARS-CoV-2, H5N1, and H1N1 viruses.

Once the aptamers link to the target proteins in the air, the connected ion-gated transistor will magnify the signal and send a notification to the wearers’ phones. A breakthrough, highly sensitive component called an ion-gated transistor enables the mask to detect even trace levels of viruses in the air within 10 minutes.

This new face mask “would work really well in spaces with poor ventilation, such as elevators or enclosed rooms, where the risk of getting infected is high,” adds Fang.  He adds that if a new respiratory virus appears in the future, scientists can easily tweak the architecture of the sensor to detect the emerging pathogens.

By refining the design of the polymers and transistors, the team intends to reduce the detection time and boost the sensitivity of the sensor. Additionally, they are developing wearable medical devices to treat ailments including cancer and cardiovascular problems.

“Currently, doctors have been relying heavily on their experiences in diagnosing and treating diseases,” according to Fang. 

“But with richer data collected by wearable devices,” he adds “disease diagnosis and treatment can become more precise.”

Source: 10.1016/j.matt.2022.08.020

Image Credit: Getty

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