What it is Menstrual products used to detect COVID surges

Who’s behind it Scientists at Discovery Partners Institute, a public-private R&D center in the Loop that is part of the University of Illinois system

How it works A tampon is sealed inside a metal cage attached to a cable and dropped into a sewer. The tampon absorbs wastewater, which carries the shell of the coronavirus.

What it’s used for The apparatus detected the first omicron variant two weeks before it showed up in an individual clinical test. Such findings and trends are reported to the Illinois and Chicago health departments. “You can look at wastewater to get a pretty good sense of whether COVID is going up or down,” says Laura Clements, a senior project manager at Discovery Partners Institute.