Covid breakthrough as air sensor created to detect virus in pubs, hospitals and offices

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The air sensors will be used to measure the risk of catching the virus in places like restaurants, pubs, hospitals and offices, says Pratim Biswas, aerosol scientist and dean of the University of Miami’s College of Engineering. The devices work by absorbing air from a small box that can be worn, or a slightly larger one that can be installed on the wall. The larger one has been given the name MAXIMA and the smaller one MINIMA. Mr Biswas has been refining these sensors for years, originally to monitor air quality for industrial workers in different places.

But when coronavirus hit, Mr Biswas saw this as an opportunity to use the devices for a different purpose.

He said: “Air quality sensors are a pretty new field, and we are one of the pioneers of using them for COVID-19 detection.

“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.”

Mr Biswas is now running multiple projects which look at how the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads through the air.

Covid particle

The sensors could identify whether air particles contain the virus (Image: PA)

Pubs

They could to measure the risk of catching the virus in places like pubs (Image: PA)

The air sensors currently measure all airborne particles in real time, but he hopes to combine the sensors with technology that would identify whether those particles contained the virus.

He added: “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.

“And if there’s an increase in virus concentration levels, the sensor could set off a warning.”

Mr Biswas and his PhD student, Sukrant Dhawan, also recently published a paper that outlines how the virus travels through the air in droplets.

READ MORE: The risk factor that makes you ‘twice as likely’ to get Covid post-jab

Orchestra

Dental offices and orchestra halls had more hot spots (Image: PA)

They the paper said even the smallest particles can stay in the air after a person who is infected with the virus talks, coughs, breathes or sneezes.

They also said that some particles can travel up to more than 6 feet away from someone who has been infected.

Mr Biswas and his team are now looking into the effectiveness of different preventative measures taken to try and control the spread of COVID-19.

This includes things like looking at masks and ventilation systems to help lower the risk of indoor transmission.

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Air Sensor

Air sensors will be used to measure the risk of catching the virus (Image: PA)

Tests

They found ways to keep the level of airborne particles in orchestra halls low (Image: University of Miami)

While they are still analysing data, so far results have shown that the air in hospital waiting rooms with adequate ventilation was relatively clean.

But dental offices and orchestra halls had more hot spots, or locations of higher particle concentrations, with the potential for more COVID-19 transmission.

Based on these measurements, they also found solutions to keep the level of airborne particles in orchestra halls low.

Mr Biswas said: “If there were a network of them [the sensors] throughout the community, an application could take that data and alert people to take extra precautions if there’s a high level of virus particles near them.”

Roy Walsh

Roy Walsh

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