FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), via an application from the RAPID Manufacturing Institute, awarded the University of Arkansas $699,604 to improve a Wi-Fi nano-biosensor that will be used in a palm-sized, low-cost and wireless SARS-COV-II detection system.

The detection system is anticipated to be the first of its kind, delivering not just more accurate positive and negative results in real-time, but also confirming whether the coronavirus variants are alive (infectious) or dead (noninfectious). Ryan Tian, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, is the principal investigator.

Ryan Tian in the lab with Ruqaiza Muhyudin, PhD student and Fulbright Scholar from Pakistan, and Yang Tian, PhD student from China

“Our preliminary data strongly support the new nano-biosensor’s timely delivery,” Tian said. “The fact that our detector can tell whether the coronavirus is dead or alive, and not merely provide a positive result like current tests on the market, will change the game in fighting COVID and other future pandemics.”

The award to Tian and his team is part of a $3.77 million NIST grant to Avadain LLC, the Southwest Research Institute, Flextrapower Inc. and UA to scale up the production of graphene for use in improved respirators and nano-biosensors intended to reduce the transmission of coronavirus. As part of that larger grant, the Southwest Regional Institute will both provide and scale up its production of a higher-quality graphene flake that is large, thin and nearly defect-free.

Tian also expects the detector to provide results at a lower cost, with greater user-friendliness and simpler, large-scale manufacturing than the other test kits on the market. Under the terms of the grant, Tian and his team will deliver a cellphone-based, palm-size tool that detects coronavirus particles in the specimens and transmits the data via Wi-Fi.

Tian’s team was also awarded $50,000 from the NSF I-Corps Program. This program will allow Tian and his doctoral students, Ruqaiza Muhyudin and Yang Tian (no relation), to explore commercialization opportunities for the nano-biosensor.

Tian says his sensor can also be used to detect foodborne, waterborne, and airborne bacteria as well as viruses, T- and B-cells, stem cells, and cancerous cells. He anticipates it having broad applications for the food industry, healthcare and border security.