Electric bugs used to detect water pollution

Aug 11, 2014
Electric bugs used to detect water pollution

(Phys.org) —Scientists from our Department of Chemical Engineering have developed a low-cost device that could be used in developing countries to monitor the quality of drinking water in real time without costly lab equipment.

Current methods of detecting pollutants in water are costly, time-consuming and require specialist technical expertise. However researchers from the University in collaboration with Bristol Robotics Laboratory at the University of the West of England, have created a low cost sensor using 3D printing technology that can be used directly in rivers and lakes for continuous .

The sensor contains bacteria that produce a small measurable as they feed and grow. The researchers found that when the bacteria are disturbed by coming into contact with toxins in the water, the electric current drops, alerting to the presence of pollutants in the water.

Dr Mirella Di Lorenzo, Lecturer in Chemical Engineering at Bath, explained: "When the bacteria feed in a , they convert chemical energy into electrical energy that we can measure.

"We found that when we injected a pollutant into the water there was an immediate drop in the electric current they produced. The drop was proportional to the amount of toxin present and the current is recovered once the toxin levels fell.

"This means we are able to monitor the level of pollutants in the water in without having to collect multiple samples and take them to a laboratory.

"Because this system uses live , it acts a bit like a canary in a mine, showing how these chemicals affect living organisms."

The effects of pollution on ecosystems are currently assessed using fish or daphnia, which is costly, takes time and is difficult to reproduce the results.

Other methods of detecting water pollutants involve mass spectrometry which is a very sensitive process but requires expensive specialist equipment and expertise, so is unsuitable for routine widespread monitoring, and impossible in some of the developing countries that need this technology most.

Using the device, the researchers were able to detect tiny concentrations of cadmium, a pollutant used in the electronics industry, at quantities well below the accepted maximum safe levels.

The research is published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.

Explore further: A high-tech solution for detecting bacteria in water

More information: Biosensors and Bioelectronics, www.sciencedirect.com/science/… ii/S0956566314004710

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A high-tech solution for detecting bacteria in water

Mar 27, 2014

Water quality and safety can never be taken for granted. Every day, millions of tons of inadequately treated sewage, industrial and agricultural wastes are poured into the world's lakes, rivers, and oceans ...

New biosensor will guard water supplies from toxic threats

Mar 11, 2014

Supported by a $953,958 grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), researchers at the University of California San Diego will develop a sophisticated new biosensor that can protect the nation's water ...

Bacteria in drinking water are key to keeping it clean

Aug 14, 2013

Research at the University of Sheffield, published in the latest issue of Water Science and Technology: Water Supply, points the way to more sophisticated and targeted methods of ensuring our drinking water remains safe t ...

Recommended for you

Off-world manufacturing is a go with space printer

14 hours ago

On Friday, the BBC reported on a NASA email exchange with a space station which involved astronauts on the International Space Station using their 3-D printer to make a wrench from instructions sent up in ...

First drone in Nevada test program crashes in demo

Dec 19, 2014

A drone testing program in Nevada is off to a bumpy start after the first unmanned aircraft authorized to fly without Federal Aviation Administration supervision crashed during a ceremony in Boulder City.

Fully automated: Thousands of blood samples every hour

Dec 19, 2014

Siemens is supplying automation technology for the longest and one of the most cutting-edge sample processing lines in any clinical laboratory. The line, or automation track, 200 meters long, in Marlborough, ...

Explainer: What is 4-D printing?

Dec 19, 2014

Additive manufacturing – or 3D printing – is 30 years old this year. Today, it's found not just in industry but in households, as the price of 3D printers has fallen below US$1,000. Knowing you can p ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.