Researchers are developing small air quality sensors that will allow people to detect active viruses in any environment.
Due to the focus on the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers across the globe are trying to study how SARS-CoV-2 spreads and how technology can help people to reduce their chances of contracting the illness.
Pratim Biswas, a veteran aerosol scientist who is dean of the University of Miami College of Engineering, is enabling new small air quality sensors that can be utilized by people in all sorts of environments. Biswas has worked on air quality sensors for industrial workers for a long time. The sensors he developed can currently measure all airborne particles in real time. He now 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.”
Biswas and his Ph.D student, Sukrant Dhawan, explained that some of the smallest particles can linger in the air for hours after an infected person talks, coughs, sneezes, or breathes and that some particles can travel more than 6 feet from an infected person. They also developed a computer model that can compute a person’s risk of being infected from someone standing in front of them with COVID-19.
Biswas and his fellow researchers are exploring the effectiveness of COVID-19 prevention strategies such as masks and ventilation. They measured the efficacy of several types of masks and found that the N95 and KN95 masks are ideal.
Biswas’ team set up their MAXIMA and wearable MINIMA sensors in a variety of locations in the St. Louis region. They then create heat maps showing where the highest levels of aerosols were located. They observed with the help of these sensors that ventilations are critical.
“You can create a certain ventilation pattern to clean the area where the aerosols are building up,” Biswas explained. “In the case of the orchestra, the facility could direct the ventilation system to suck out the air from the area of heavily emitted aerosol concentrations at a higher rate.”