April 19, 2024
The search team with the corona detector.

AEven if, given the pandemic that has just passed, doubts remain as to whether humanity will act more cautiously in the next one, there is still hope in relation to individual aspects. Whether the toilet paper crisis will repeat itself remains to be seen. Meanwhile, at least some Europeans will acknowledge that masks protect people, especially others if the wearer is infected. Contrary to Asian cultures, masks are “something foreign” to us, explained then-Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz in 2020; as if they had been used there for thousands of years.

Only a few in this country have incorporated them into their culture, but a device that would also be useful in future pandemics could now make it possible to quickly search for masks that have not been used for a long time but are still hidden in bags and backpacks: US researchers have built a box that can detect corona viruses in the room air. As stated in “Nature Communications”, the device is able to detect Sars-CoV-2 in a few minutes.

The search team with the corona detector.


The search team with the corona detector.
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Image: Shubham Sharma / University of Washington

To do this, air is forced through a funnel-shaped vessel at high flow rates of one thousand liters per minute. A cyclone is created which ensures that liquid particles are collected by a spin effect and that the virus can be detected despite low concentrations in the air. This is done using a nanoantibody that recognizes characteristic spike proteins. The device, developed as a prototype and already licensed for commercial applications, is expected to turn on when the virus is detected. In the future, it should also be able to detect influenza, RSV or bacteria.

It could provide immersion when showing films about the pandemic in cinemas and hopefully also avoid contagion in clinics or schools. Covert tests likely thwart vacuum cleaner-like noises. Whether the invention will lead to cultural change or whether people will remain indifferent when the alarm goes off remains to be seen.

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