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NASA comes up with COVID-19 infection detector that’s out of this world – E-Nose built from space station gear • The Register

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NASA is trying to adapt an air-quality monitor normally found on the International Space Station to detect COVID-19 from people’s breath here on Earth.

The team working on the project were awarded $3.8m by the US Department of Health and Human Services to modify the sensor. Instead of alerting astronauts to toxic gases, such as mercury vapor and formaldehyde, in space, the E-Nose will look out for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in human breath generated by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“There are many VOCs in the breath, and we are looking for the VOCs that either are new to the healthy human breath or changed in quantity due to the virus,” Jing Li, the inventor of E-Nose and a principal investigator and senior scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center, told The Register on Monday.

The VOCs produced by the COVID-19 coronavirus act as biomarkers. “After we identify the biomarkers, we can tune our sensors to detect them,” she explained.

enose

The E-Nose COVID sniffer … Source: NASA/Ames Research Center/Dominic Hart. Click to enlarge.

Finding these biomarkers, however, isn’t straightforward. The team hopes machine-learning algorithms will help automatically find these biomarkers by identifying abnormalities in breath samples taken from patients infected with COVID-19. Data points are collected by getting patients to breathe into the E-Nose device, with the data transferred by Bluetooth to an app for diagnostics.

“The E-Nose algorithm will look at the patterns of the sensor array response to the human breath and then perform a pattern recognition to differentiate the healthy group with COVID-19 positive group,” Li said.

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“When the patient comes in for a COVID test, the E-Nose device will measure the sensor array response to this human’s breath and compare the pattern measured to the healthy control pattern or COVID-19 positive pattern stored in the app for similarity. It will identify the patient as COVID-19 positive when the sensor array response pattern matches the same COVID-19 positive pattern stored in the app,” she told us.

The project is still in its early stages; the researchers are testing out various machine-learning algorithms to discover and detect biomarkers in human breath. Li and her colleagues will also have to conduct clinical trials, too. They hope that the E-Nose will be sensitive enough to be used in public places, such as grocery stores and restaurants.

“E-Nose could help mitigate community spread of the virus in a manner similar to how temperature checks are used to screen individuals before entering shared indoor spaces,” NASA said. ®

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2021 iPhone photography awards – in pictures | Technology

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The 14th annual iPhone photography awards offer glimpses of beauty, hope and the endurance of the human spirit. Out of thousands of submissions, photojournalist Istvan Kerekes of Hungary was named the grand prize winner for his image Transylvanian Shepherds. In it, two rugged shepherds traverse an equally rugged industrial landscape, bearing a pair of lambs in their arms.

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With Alphabet’s legendary commitment to products, we can’t wait to see what its robotics biz Intrinsic achieves • The Register

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Alphabet today launched its latest tech startup, Intrinsic, which aims to build commercial software that will power industrial robots.

Intrinsic will focus on developing software control tools for industrial robots used in manufacturing, we’re told. Its pitch is that the days of humans having to manually program and adjust a robot’s every move are over, and that mechanical bots should be more autonomous and smart, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and leaps in training techniques.

This could make robots easier to direct – give them a task, and they’ll figure out the specifics – and more efficient – the AI can work out the best way to achieve its goal.

“Over the last few years, our team has been exploring how to give industrial robots the ability to sense, learn, and automatically make adjustments as they’re completing tasks, so they work in a wider range of settings and applications,” said CEO Wendy Tan White.

“Working in collaboration with teams across Alphabet, and with our partners in real-world manufacturing settings, we’ve been testing software that uses techniques like automated perception, deep learning, reinforcement learning, motion planning, simulation, and force control.”

Tan White – a British entrepreneur and investor who was made an MBE by the Queen in 2016 for her services to the tech industry – will leave her role as vice president of X, Alphabet’s moonshot R&D lab, to concentrate on Intrinsic.

She earlier co-founded and was CEO of website-building biz Moonfruit, and helped multiple early-stage companies get up and running as a general partner at Entrepreneur First, a tech accelerator. She is also a board trustee of the UK’s Alan Turing Institute, and member of Blighty’s Digital Economic Council.

“I loved the role I played in creating platforms that inspired the imagination and entrepreneurship of people all over the world, and I’ve recently stepped into a similar opportunity: I’m delighted to share that I’m now leading Intrinsic, a new Alphabet company,” she said.

The new outfit is another venture to emerge from Google-parent Alphabet’s X labs, along with Waymo, the self-driving car startup; and Verily, a biotech biz. ®

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Charles River to create 90 new jobs at Ballina biologics site

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Charles River is expanding its testing capabilities in Ballina as part of its partnership with Covid-19 vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca.

Contract research organisation Charles River Laboratories is planning an €8m site expansion in Ballina to facilitate batch release testing for Covid-19 vaccines from AstraZeneca.

The expansion at the Mayo site will create an additional 1,500 sq m of lab space and 90 highly skilled jobs in the area over the next three years.

Click here to check out the top sci-tech employers hiring right now.

The company provides longstanding partners AstraZeneca with outsourced regulated safety and development support on a range of treatments and vaccines, including testing and facilitating the deployment of Vaxzevria for Covid-19 and Fluenz for seasonal infleunza.

The latest investment follows earlier expansions at the Ballina site and Charles River recently announced plans to establish a dedicated laboratory space to handle testing of SARS-CoV-2 and other similar pathogens that cause human disease.

“We are incredibly proud of the transformational changes we have implemented on site and the role that Charles River has played in supporting the safe and timely roll-out of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine,” said Liam McHale, site director for Charles River Ballina.

“Throughout the pandemic, our site remained fully operational while keeping our employees safe and having a positive impact on human health. Our expanded facility will provide us with the increased capacity needed to continue the essential services we provide to our clients.”

Charles River acquired the Ballina facility, which focuses on biologics testing, in 2002. The company employs 230 people at its two facilities in Ireland, including the Mayo site and a site in Dublin, established in 2017, which serves as the EMEA and APAC headquarters for the company’s microbial solutions division.

IDA Ireland is supporting the expansion. Mary Buckley, executive director of the agency, said Charles River is an “employer of long standing” in Co Mayo.

“The enhancement of its product lines and the development of additional capability at the Ballina facility is most welcome,” she added. “Today’s announcement is strongly aligned to IDA Ireland’s regional pillar and its continued commitment to winning jobs and investment in regional locations.”

Dan Wygal, country president for AstraZeneca Ireland, added: “Our Covid-19 vaccine, Vaxzevria, undergoes extremely robust safety and quality testing prior to becoming available for patients. We are committed to bringing safe, effective vaccines to Ireland and other markets as quickly as possible, and Charles River will continue to be an important partner in this regard.”

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