Researchers from MIT and Harvard have developed a face mask that can detect SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, in a wearer’s breath within just 90 minutes.
This new sensor technology can be tweaked to detect any kind of virus or toxin, and is small enough to be integrated into daily wearables, such as clothing.
According toNew Atlas, the sensor has been in development by MIT and Harvard for several years and is based on wFDCF (wearable freeze-dried cell-free) technology. Previous biosensors had required the incorporation of living cells, but the wFDCF system extracts and freeze-dries the cellular machinery needed to detect organic molecules instead.
In the past, wFDCF technology had been used to create experimental tools to detect the Ebola and Zika viruses. When the pandemic hit a year ago, the researchers reacted swiftly to pivot this technology into a useful product to help combat the COVID-19 virus.
“We wanted to contribute to the global effort to fight the virus, and we came up with the idea of integrating wFDCF into face masks to detect SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19),” said study co-author Luis Soenksen.
Here’s how it works. With the press of a button, several biosensors in the mask are activated, releasing a small reservoir of water. The water then hydrates the previously freeze-dried molecules in the sensor, which helps to analyze droplets from a wearer’s breath.