Award Abstract #2030359

RAPID: Colorimetric COVID-19 Detection Using Aptamers

See grant description on NSF site

Program Manager:

Steve Zehnder

Active Dates:

Awarded Amount:



Massood Tabib-Azar

Jules J Magda

Awardee Organization:

University of Utah


Engineering (ENG)


Because of the current COVID-19 pandemic, there is severe urgency for accurate point-of-care detection of COVID-19. The investigator will develop colorimetric aptamer-based COVID-19 virus sensors that will change their color or visually indicate the presence of COVID-19 on their sensitive surfaces. COVID-19 aptamers will be synthesized and when bonded with COVID-19 will cause a visible change in the sensor that can be viewed with the naked eye. They will also develop COVID-19 sensors that turn “red” when COVID-19 is present. The sensor surface is functionalized with the COVID-19 aptamers that is in contact with a buffer solution containing fluorescent microbeads. They are also functionalized with COVID-19 aptamers. The beads do not attach to the sensor surface unless COVID-19 is present to bridge them together. In the presence of COVID-19 the bright red microbeads attach to the sensor surface completely changing its color. Based on extensive experience with similar sensors designed to detect Zika viruses, biofluids such as stimulant urine does not affect sensor’s performance. Heat inactivated COVID-19 will be used in preliminary experiments. They will be obtained from Zeptometrix corporation and they do not require Bio Safety Level 2 (BSL-2) laboratories for handling. Sensors capable of detecting a single COVID-19 virus will also be developed in this study. Tunneling current sensors (TCS), field-effect transistors using COVID-19 conducting channels, terahertz and UV-VIS spectroscopy, DC conductivity sensors, quartz crystal micro balance and micro-electro-mechanical microbalance will also be developed. Terahertz sensors along with their shorter wavelength optical counterparts have the potential to remotely sense COVID-19 without requiring aptamers. The goal is to have a working COVID-19 handheld sensor in 2 months.This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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