WaterKeeping water pure with detection nanosensors

Published 13 April 2011

Seven European countries, containing 35 percent of the European population, face a risk of water shortfall; University College Cork will coordinate a 3 million Euro EU project for the development of novel smart sensing materials for applications in water purification technology and clinical diagnostics

Tyndall National Institute at University College Cork has began the coordination of a €3 million EU project for the development of novel smart sensing materials for applications in water purification technology and clinical diagnostics. The nine partners involved in the EU HYSENS (Hybrid Molecule/Nanocrystal Assemblies for Photonic and Electronic Sensing Applications) project will work on the fabrication of innovative materials that will detect the concentration of ions such as sodium, potassium, and calcium, in water and body fluids in a faster, cheaper, and more effective way than the current commercial technologies.

“The increasing shortage of water supply (seven European countries constituting 35 percent European population are a risk of water shortfall) has lead to the implementation of recycling plants for both potable water and technological applications, thus increasing the demand for low cost and fast contaminant detection technologies,” explains Tyndall researcher and project coordinator, Dr. Daniela Iacopino.

“For example, ultrapure water is an essential reagent for the manufacture of semiconductor, pharmaceutical, and power plant industries. Existing and future industries are required to detect contaminant levels down to milligrams per liter (mg/L) concentration limits. These limits can today only be met with the incorporation of water analysis systems at the moment prohibitively expensive to implement. On the other hand in the clinical diagnostic area there is an increasing demand for development of innovative low cost analysis technologies that could be applied for example in emergency rooms to obtain fast indication for the diagnosis of specific diseases. Ion tests are routinely performed with techniques whose concentration detection limits are in the mg-mg/L range.

“Although these limits meet the specifications required, more accurate, selective and sensitive methods would revolutionize the field of diagnostics for early detection and management of renal, endocrine, acid-base, water balance disorders, and many other conditions,” says Dr. Iacopina.

“We are very excited to lead this research project which brings together world class interdisciplinary research groups from six European countries. The novel materials fabricated within HYSENS will offer significant advantages over conventional technologies in terms of analysis time, cost and quality. For example, the actual cost per analysis of ions in body fluids is today estimated to be in the range €1.7 - €27.5. Since the materials proposed by HYSENS are based on low cost starting materials and fabrication routes, we are estimating to bring the cost per analysis down to €0.05 - €1,” Commented Dr. Iacopino.

The total cost of the 3-year project is estimated at €3.4 million of which €3 million is provided in grant funding from the EU Commission. Cellix ltd., a leading instrumentation company, is the other Irish partner involved in HYSENS.

Together Tyndall and Cellix will receive €920,000 from EU for this project.