Researchers Create Air Monitor to Detect COVID-19


Proof-of-concept device will be able to detect SARS-CoV-2 within minutes.

New study findings announce that scientists are looking for ways to detect COVID-19 in indoor environments in real time. Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis have created a real-time monitor that is able to identify the SARS-CoV-2 virus indoors in about 5 minutes. The researchers combined advances that were found in aerosol sampling technology and an ultrasensitive biosensing technique to generate the monitor.

“There is nothing at the moment that tells us how safe a room is. If you are in a room with 100 people, you don’t want to find out 5 days later whether you could be sick or not. The idea with this device is that you can know essentially in real time, or every 5 minutes, if there is a live virus,” said John Cirrito, PhD, a professor of neurology at the Washington University School of Medicine, in a press release.

Germs floating around in the air | Image credit: Rolling Stones -

Germs floating around in the air | Image credit: Rolling Stones -

According to a news release, the monitor is inexpensive and can be used in hospitals, health care facilities, schools, and other public places. Although it was made to detect COVID-19, in the future it will be able to reveal respiratory virus aerosols, including influenzas and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

The news release confirmed that the monitor operates at a faster speed than most commercial bioaerosols samplers, having a rate of 1000 liters per minute. It is a small, compact size, at around 1 foot wide and 10 inches tall. When a virus is detected, it will light up and alert officials to increase airflow.

In order to effectivity detect coronavirus rather than amyloid beta, which were detected with a previous biosensor, the researchers replaced the antibody that recognized amyloid beta with a nanobody. The nanobody was from llamas and can recognize spike proteins from SARS-CoV-2.

“The nanobody-based electrochemical approach is faster at detecting the virus because it doesn’t need a reagent or a lot of processing steps. SARS-CoV-2 binds to the nanobodies on the surface, and we can induce oxidation of tyrosine on the surface of the virus using a technique called square wave voltammetry to get a measurement of the amount of virus in the sample,” said Carla Yuede, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine, in the press release.

To test the monitor, the researchers used the device in the apartments of 2 individuals who tested positive for COVID-19. According to the study, the researchers then took the results and compared them to air samples from apartments of individuals who tested negative for COVID-19. The device worked as expected, finding RNA in the positive bedrooms and not in the negative bedrooms.

The air quality monitor is not yet marketed but the team is working on commercializing the device.

“We are starting with SARS-CoV-2, but there are plans to also measure influenza, RSV, rhinovirus and other top pathogens that routinely infect people. In a hospital setting, the monitor could be used to measure for staph or strep, which cause all kinds of complications for patients. This could really have a major impact on people’s health,” Cirrito said in the press release.

The findings suggest that this proof-of-concept device will be able to advance public space air safety by detecting SARS-CoV-2 within minutes and could also monitor other respiratory viruses.


Air monitor can detect COVID-19 virus variants in about 5 minutes. News release. EurekAlert!. July 10,2023. Accessed July 13, 2023.

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