A novel approach to testing for the presence of the virus that causes COVID-19 may lead to tests that are faster, less expensive, and potentially less prone to erroneous results than existing detection methods. Though the work, based on quantum effects, is still theoretical, these detectors could potentially be adapted to detect virtually any virus.
The team’s analysis shows the new test could have false-negative rates below 1 percent. The test could also be sensitive enough to detect just a few hundred strands of the viral RNA, within just a second.
The new approach makes use of atomic-scale defects in tiny bits of diamond, known as nitrogen vacancy (NV) centers. These tiny defects are extremely sensitive to minute perturbations, thanks to quantum effects taking place in the diamond’s crystal lattice and are being explored for a wide variety of sensing devices that require high sensitivity.
The sensor uses only low-cost materials (the diamonds involved are smaller than specks of dust), and the devices could be scaled up to analyze a whole batch of samples at once, the researchers say. The gadolinium-based coating with its RNA-tuned organic molecules can be produced using common chemical processes and materials.