Researchers have demonstrated that they can identify SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, in the air by employing a nanotechnology-packed bubble that ruptures when it comes into contact with the virus.
According to the team, such a detector could be positioned on a wall or ceiling, or in an air duct, where there's constant air movement, to alert occupants immediately when even a trace level of the virus is present.
"There is a need for this kind of low-cost detection system," said researcher Lance Hubbard from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in the US.
"Perhaps it could be implemented in schools, or in hospitals or emergency rooms before patients have been fully assessed -- anywhere you need to know immediately that the virus is present," he added.
For the study, published in the journal MRS Communications, the team created a new kind of micelle, one that is stamped on the surface with copies of an imprinted particle for SARS-CoV-2.
The team filled micelles with a salt capable of creating an electronic signal, but that is quiescent when packed inside a micelle. When a viral particle interacts with one of the imprinted receptors on the surface, the micelle pops open, spilling the salt and sending out an electronic signal instantly.
The system acts like a signal magnifier, translating the presence of one viral particle into 10 billion molecules that together create a detectable signal. The developers say the detector has advantages over today's technologies; it produces a signal faster, requires a much lower level of viral particles, or produces fewer errors.