- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Lawyer, author, reporter and actor Tom Ramstack today added another profession to his resume: inventor.
Mr. Ramstack, a transportation reporter at The Washington Times, was granted a U.S. patent today on a device to detect airborne viruses and bacteria in real time (meaning lab work would be unnecessary).
"This is a benchmark for me," Mr. Ramstack said.
"And I know that it works because it's already been working for a million years."
Mr. Ramstack says the device uses the same type of technique detecting electromagnetic auras that sharks and manta rays use to find their prey.
The device, which Mr. Ramstack calls a "pathogen detector," could be housed in a walk-through compartment that looks like an airport metal detector.
The system works by transmitting a radio wave from a transmitter to a receiver, similar to the method used by local radio stations to reach their listeners, he said.
But if the radio waves strike virus or bacteria cells in the air, the cells would vibrate.
Software can convert the vibrations into a digital code that can be compared with codes for similar viruses and bacteria stored in memory.
Christopher Davis, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Maryland, says the idea of biosensors is intriguing, but he would like to see evidence that Mr. Ramstack's actually works.
"There have been a lot of these claims, and the problem with these schemes is that even if it were to detect something, it would be hard to see the difference between a virus, pollen and a common cold," Mr. Davis said. "[The sensor] would be too insensitive."
Mr. Ramstack said his pathogen detector could be used by airlines and workplaces to find out who is sick and needs to be sent home before spreading their bacteria or virus around to others.
If workplaces incorporated the device, they "could save thousands of dollars in sick leave," he said.
Other uses include preventing the spread of disease within hospitals, schools or other buildings.
Mr. Ramstack said he has been in contact with some interested investors but would not reveal their names until their commitment is solid.
The Patent and Trademark Office issues about 3,500 patents a week.


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