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 study has found that wearing a face mask can minimise the chance of transmitting and catching the disease. As a result, we set out to develop a mask that can detect the presence of viruses in the air and inform the wearer “Yin Fang, a material scientist at Shanghai Tongji University and the study’s corresponding author, added.
COVID-19 and H1N1 influenza viruses spread by minute droplets and aerosols emitted by infected persons when they talk, cough, or sneeze. These virus-containing molecules, particularly small aerosols, can linger in the air for extended periods of 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 function great in places with limited ventilation, like elevators or enclosed rooms, where the danger of infection is high,” Fang adds. If a new respiratory virus appears in the future, they may easily alter the sensor’s architecture to identify the emerging viruses, he says.
Next, the team intends to reduce detection time and boost sensor sensitivity by refining the architecture of the polymers and transistors. They are also developing wearable gadgets for a number of medical ailments such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.
“Doctors are now depending primarily on their experience in identifying and treating ailments. However, as wearable technologies capture more data, illness diagnosis and treatment can become more exact “Fang says.