Thermo Fisher deploys sensors for detecting airborne COVID-19

An abstract image of a hospital hallway
Thermo Fisher's toaster oven-sized machine collects aerosol samples on a removable cartridge, which can be analyzed using its standard COVID-19 molecular test kit. (Shutterstock/sfam_photo)

Thermo Fisher Scientific is rolling out a new device designed to monitor rooms for airborne viruses, including the coronavirus behind COVID-19. 

The company said its AerosolSense Sampler is designed to help hospitals, nursing homes, schools, offices and other locations surveil high-traffic areas for elevated levels of the pathogen, providing an early-warning layer of screening that can be combined with individual diagnostic tests after the pandemic begins to subside.

The toaster oven-sized machine collects aerosol samples and traps any pathogens on a removable cartridge—with the ability to completely filter the air of a 1,000-square-foot room in under 20 hours—which is then analyzed in a laboratory using Thermo Fisher’s established TaqPath COVID-19 molecular test kit.

"Such factors as emerging variants, semi-vaccinated populations and varying levels of compliance with COVID-19 personal safety protocols, continue to pose risks to a society looking to return to life as it was before the pandemic," said Thermo Fisher’s chief operating officer, Mark Stevenson. 

The system has been specifically validated for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the company said, but it is also designed to capture a variety of airborne diseases.

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Meanwhile, Thermo Fisher has also launched a nationwide testing program for classrooms, in partnership with the diagnostic provider Color, after the U.S. government passed the COVID-19 relief bill including $10 billion in funding for widespread screening.

The package includes funding for state-led testing programs and a future award for a federal hub-and-spoke model to expand diagnostic capacity for schools and underserved populations. Thermo Fisher itself has helped establish a network of university laboratories, including at historically Black colleges and universities through its Just Project.

"The $10 billion allocation is a critical first step to returning students to school in April, and what happens next is even more critical—helping schools take advantage," Stevenson said. "This program is possible because our industry has already established a strong testing infrastructure during the pandemic and now it's time to make that available where it's needed most urgently."