Aida Ebrahimi Image
Aida Ebrahimi, assistant professor of electrical engineering, recently received the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering Trailblazer Award for New and Early-Stage Investigators. (Credit: Penn State College of Engineering)

Researchers plan to develop an affordable and accurate at-home, saliva-based COVID-19 test, rivaling the simplicity and convenience of pregnancy tests and glucose monitors, but with higher sensitivity.

The device will provide test results within 30 minutes with an accuracy of more than 90 percent. It could potentially be sensitive enough to detect the virus before a person begins to show symptoms or in asymptomatic people.

To accomplish this, the lab will first use inactive SARS-CoV-2 viral particles to explore their unique electrical properties. All materials react to an electrical field, with varying responses depending on the materials’ properties. The researchers plan to determine these detailed parameters for the inactive viral particles to design the proposed electrochemical device.

Next, the researchers will use photolithography, a cost-effective process that uses light to etch tiny patterns on a photosensitive surface. The patterns are designed to capture and sort the target viral particles from the saliva sample and route them to the sensor area. They will use computational modeling to guide the device design and develop the prototype, which they will test and validate using inactive virus particles.