LEXINGTON, Ky. — For over a year now, University of Kentucky researchers have been testing wastewater to detect early signs of COVID-19.

What You Need To Know

  • University of Kentucky researchers have been testing for early signs of COVID-19 outbreaks

  • Researchers are now expanding into the community

  • Researchers are able to do the testing in a van in the field to provide quicker access

  • UK plans to expand their research over the next few months with various projects 

Over the last year, researchers at the University of Kentucky have been testing wastewater both on campus and around the state, looking for early signs of COVID-19 outbreaks.

“It has been successful, we’ve had quiet times and then as you would expect during the delta and omicron outbreaks we had pretty high signals pretty much everywhere,” Scott Berry, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, said.

From the start of the testing, Berry has led the testing and said they are now expanding their lab into the field.

“Really the overarching philosophy of our lab is simplicity. We took a lot of processes that typically would be really large robotic instruments that wouldn’t fit in here and we simplified them down into desktop things,” Berry said.

Inside the new van, Soroosh Torabi, a postdoctoral scholar, has worked alongside Berry for the past seven months, and said this new opportunity expands their reach in their community.

“We really wanna show people that this is something that is to help people so we are trying to get the science closer to the community so they can see the effect of all this science and engineering going on in the background,” Torabi said.

Droplets of raw wastewater are placed into their testing device.

“We use that in this plate and with this machine in front of me, in a quick linear motion it extracts all of the COVID virus out,” Torabi said.

It’s similar to the processes around the nation testing for COVID-19.

“If you were to get a COVID test, this is probably the technique that they are using to detect whether or not there are some viral particles in your sample,” Torabi said.

Berry and Torabi said expanding their lab into the van will allow for more accurate and quicker access to results, which hopefully will prevent outbreaks in their communities. 

UK researchers say they plan to continue their studies in the field even after the pandemic to detect different viruses such as the flu and other viruses.