Testing at home for coronavirus? There could be an app for that

Published on ECE Website. Click here for the original article.

While the pandemic enters its third spike worldwide, access to reliable and rapid testing remains an essential goal for its detection. Good luck getting rapid results if you are asymptomatic, too.

In this effort, engineers at The Ohio State University are collaborating to find out if detecting coronavirus infection could be as simple as using a smartphone app.

Their research proposal was recently published by Cell Reports Physical Science and involves Ohio State’s Rongjun Qin, in the departments of Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering and Electrical and Computer Engineering. He is also associated with Ohio State’s Translational Data Analytics Institute.

Qin teamed up on the project with Assistant Professor Xiaoguang Wang and several faculty members within Ohio State’s Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering department and Sustainability Institute, as well as colleagues at Purdue University.

Rather than a typical government-funded research project, Qin said, the goal is more of a “let us have a try” concept to create a real-time smartphone coronavirus detection app based on the LCD detector.

The team from Purdue provided the COVID-related RNA material information, and Wang then developed an LCD-based sensor to test for its positivity, which has a high sensitivity for detection.

According to the research, liquid crystal films provide precise detection of the SARS-CoV-2 nucleotide sequence, with high selectivity and sensitivity. This triggers the ordering transitions in the liquid crystal films coating and creates a visual reaction for the LCD display.

This is where Qin’s skills come into play.

“My role is to facilitate digitizing the detection through a smartphone-based detector, that utilizes machine learning techniques, to interpret the positivity and negativity to prototyping the detecting kit,” Qin said. “We have a smartphone app prototype with the videos.”

“Finally, we will design a LC-based diagnostic kit and a smartphone-based application to enable automatic detection,” the research states, “which could be used for reliable self-test of SARS-CoV-2 at home without the need for complex equipment or procedures.”

Wang said the unique use of liquid crystal materials in this way is unique.

“Liquid crystals are used in our daily life, such as LCDs and smartphones,” he said. “Here we are very excited to see novel application of liquid crystals beyond display technology. Now we are trying to test our liquid crystal detection kit using real patient samples.”

Story by Ryan Horns | ECE/IMR Communications Specialist | Horns.1@osu.edu | @OhioStateECE


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