USF lab developing breathalyzer to detect COVID-19

A strange looking device in an engineering laboratory at the University of South Florida could lead to a big medical breakthrough and a big prize. 

It’s called the Bull Nose and when it’s perfected, engineers believe it will electronically ‘smell’ COVID-19 on the breath of people who are infected. 

“It’s very exciting, very rewarding, and we hope to save a lot of lives with it,” says Tiffany Miller, an electrical engineering Ph. D. student at USF.

Like a breathalyzer, you breathe into it and it will quickly read out the results digitally on a screen. 

Miller began using the technology to detect COVID-19 when the university received a research grant in April.

“Nobody knew anything about COVID-19,” explained Miller, “So we had to start from scratch. We had to move very quickly.”

The Bull Nose is a prototype now. There’s more work to do. For one, they hope to make it smaller, to fit in a pocket.

This is one of 42 COVID-19 projects underway at USF.

“A lot of universities that I’m aquatinted with work at the speed of geology instead of business,” said Michael Bloom, assistant vice president of corporate partnerships and innovation at USF. 

He says accelerated research here could help beat the coronavirus. Additional incentive is coming from a special X-Prize for innovation to battle COVID-19. It’s a six-month competition worth $5 million. 

The prize would breathe more life into new technology like the Bull Nose and engineers like Miller who hope their work can save lives.