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Common respiratory viruses, including those that cause COVID-19 and H1N1 influenza, mainly spread through tiny droplets and aerosols released when infected people talk, cough, or sneeze. Research has shown that SARS-COV2 can remain suspended in the air for hours. Hence, health experts have been encouraging people to wear face masks to reduce the risk of contracting the disease and spreading it. Now, scientists have created a face mask that can alert you if such contagious viruses are present in the surrounding air.
Yin Fang, a material scientist at Shanghai Tongji University, and his colleagues presented their invention in the journal Matter. They inventors claimed that their highly sensitive mask can detect the presence of pathogens like influenza and coronavirus in the air and alert the wearers about it via their mobile phones within 10 minutes.
As described by the scientists, the face mask consists of a small sensor that is designed with three types of aptamers (synthetic molecules) that can identify surface proteins on SARS-CoV-2, H5N1, and H1N1. When these aptamers bind to the target proteins in the air, a highly sensitive ion-gated transistor sends the signal and alert the wearers through their phones. The innovative mask can detect even trace levels of viruses in the air within 10 minutes, they stated.
Fang said that the mask can detect as little as 0.3 microliters of liquid containing viral proteins, much less than the volume of liquid produced by sneezing, coughing or talking.
Further, he claimed that the mask can work "really well" in spaces with poor ventilation, such as elevators or enclosed rooms, where the risk of contracting viruses is high. Also, the sensor's design can be easily updated for detecting any respiratory virus that emerges in the future.
Next, the team is hoping to optimize the design of the polymers and transistors to further increase the sensitivity of the sensor so that it can detect viruses even faster.
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