Researchers Developing Air Quality Sensors to Detect COVID-19

Researchers Developing Air Quality Sensors to Detect COVID-19

In the not-so-distant-future, Pratim Biswas envisions a time when people can measure their risk of catching COVID-19 in all sorts of environments—like restaurants, doctor’s offices, and hospitals—by simply wearing a small air quality sensor and connecting it to an application on their phone.

Biswas, a veteran aerosol scientist who is dean of the University of Miami College of Engineering, has been refining these sensors for years, with the original goal of monitoring air quality for industrial workers in different settings. But when COVID-19 came along, it provided an even more pertinent avenue for the devices, which absorb air from a small box that can be worn or a larger one placed on the wall.

“Air quality sensors are a pretty new field, and we are one of the pioneers of using them for COVID-19 detection,” Biswas said, adding that two of his former graduate students even formed a company, Applied Particle Technology, to mass produce the wearable sensors before the pandemic. “The MAXIMA device is a somewhat larger unit and is placed on a surface such as the wall and the MINIMA is the wearable sensor, and they can exchange data with each other as well as with a dashboard.”

Yet, as the world began to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, Biswas’s aerosol research shifted, too. He is now working on several projects that reveal how SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19—spreads through the air and how engineers can help people to reduce their chances of contracting the illness. While the sensors currently measure all airborne particles in real time, Biswas wants to integrate them with technology that could indicate whether the particles contain active viruses.

In the future, these sensors could even be applicable to the flu and other viruses, which may be less severe but are still important to monitor,” he said. “And if there’s an increase in virus concentration levels, the sensor could set off a warning.”

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