Our phones have been integral in the fight against COVID-19 through test and trace systems that helped to contain the virus in places like South Korea and Taiwan. Now, scientists are harnessing smartphones again to identify coronavirus particles on surfaces as an additional line of defense against the pandemic, alongside more robust treatments such as vaccines and antiviral drugs. Researchers at General Electric have been awarded a National Institutes of Health grant to develop tiny sensors that can be embedded in mobiles to detect the presence of COVID-19 nano-particles.
The team behind the miniature tech claims that it boasts the same detection capabilities as far larger analytical instruments that you’d typically find in a lab. Following a decade of experiments, they claim they can fine-tune the tiny widget to isolate virus particles without interference from other elements.
“Our sensors are sort of like bloodhounds,” said Radislav Potyrailo, a principal scientist at GE Research. “We train them to detect a specific thing, and they are able to do that well without being thrown off the trail by something else.”
With the help of the grant, the team will now spend the next two years refining their fingertip-sized sensor in the hopes of placing it inside devices — ranging from phones to smartwatches to wall-mounted gadgets — in the future. Though there’s no guarantee the tech will actually make it into iPhones and Android handsets, it’s easy to envision how it could be used as an extra layer of protection against nasty viruses. The hope is that one day we’ll all be able to whip out our phones to scan for COVID-19 or flu particles at airports, stores, ATM machines and at home.