U of R and RIT collaborate on virus detection device powered by photonics

ROCHESTER N.Y. (WHEC) – Photonics technology could become key to detecting new coronavirus variants and emerging viruses.

Scientists from the University of Rochester will lead a project to design a portable chip for virus detection, in collaboration with three other colleges including the Rochester Institute of Technology. A navy research lab and several private companies are also joining the project.

The goal is to create a prototype that can detect specific viral particles or antibodies in body fluids within two years. The device’s chip won’t be powered by electrons, the particles used in electronics, but photons, the particles that are responsible for light.

The project will involve collaboration between biologists, engineers, and materials science experts. One lab at RIT will design a tiny laser and detector to place on the photonic chip.

The U of R announced on Thursday that the goal is to develop an inexpensive, compact, and accurate device. These attributes could make it ideal for addressing the health needs of underserved groups, like inner cities and rural areas.

$5 million in funding for the project comes from AIM Photonics – an Albany-based photonics company that runs testing, assembly, and packaging in Rochester. The company is one of the collaborators.

Additional funding comes from a U.S. Department of Commerce grant and from the American Rescue Act, which aims to improve the nation’s response to the COVID19 and future pandemics.

U of R professor Benjamin Miller, who directs the project, said the federal funding will help the project to accomplish its goals.

“This funding furthers our efforts to develop the first disposable integrated photonic sensors capable of detecting not only COVID-19 and its variants, but other emerging viruses,” Miller said.