Masks that detect coronavirus and other innovations

Researchers from MIT and Harvard are currently working on masks capable of detecting the coronavirus. Other teams are trying to improve the effectiveness of masks for better protection, based on UV rays, salt or graphene.

The protective mask, once relatively unknown to the general public, has become an everyday object. Many researchers are trying to improve this fairly basic equipment. A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard is currently working on masks that become fluorescent when exposed to the coronavirus. It is based on initial research published in 2016, which then studied the Zika virus .

The sensor is made up of genetic material , DNA and RNA , which attaches to the virus. It is lyophilized on fabric, which allows it to remain stable at room temperature for several months. This material activates in the presence of saliva moisture , combined with a genetic sequence from the virus. The sensor then emits a fluorescent signal invisible to the naked eye. To check the masks, health workers use a fluorometer, which costs only a dollar, according to the researchers. It would be enough to wear the mask for one to three hours to obtain a diagnosis . This solution would be much faster than current tests which require 24 hours.

UV rays to sterilize the mask while it is being worn

Jim Collins, one of MIT’s experts, says the research is still in its infancy, but the results are promising. He hopes to be able to demonstrate the concept in the coming weeks, and then start testing. This technology could be used to create masks with the sensor integrated into the fabric, or even modules that attach to masks for the general public .

Many teams are interested in eliminating the virus directly at the mask level. The firm Oracle Lighting , specialist lighting LED , is developing a system that uses ultraviolet light to disinfect the air . Its antimicrobial radiation respirator (AIR Device) is worn at mouth level and under a standard protective mask. It emits UVC rays directed towards the mask to neutralize any particle that passes through it, and disinfects the mask at the same time. The firm announces the release of the AIR Device in June 2020.

Other researchers rely on salt or graphene

Other work was announced at the start of the pandemic . A team of researchers from the University of Alberta in Canada, led by Professor Hyo-Jick Choi, is currently working on the use of salt to neutralize the coronavirus . They covered masks with a thin layer of sodium chloride which ”  punctures the particles of the virus and completely destroys it  ” according to the professor. These masks are not expected to be on the market until early 2021, however.

The company LIGC Applications relies on graphene . His mask called Guardian G-Volt required five years of research. The filtering part is made of graphene, and connected to a battery. Thanks to a low electrical charge, the mask would block 99 percent of particles larger than 0.3 microns , and 80 percent of smaller particles, according to the manufacturer. A docking station allows the mask to be heated to sterilize it completely after wearing it. All these new technologies will of course have to be approved before being placed on the market.

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