Cheap, sensitive, accurate nanoparticle sensor could alter mercury and cadmium toxin testing.
An international team of researchers has developed a nanoparticle that is the most sensitive sensor yet for detecting the known toxin mercury in our water—an interesting and ironic use of nanotechnology, given that a number of other researchers are hard at work determining whether other nanoparticles might be hazardous to our health or the environment. Researchers at Northwestern University in collaboration with colleagues at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland have developed a sensor system based around a nanoparticle that can detect minute levels of mercury and other heavy metals in water and fish.
The research ("Ultrasensitive detection of toxic cations through changes in the tunnelling current across films of striped nanoparticles"), which was published in the journal Nature Materials, has produced a sensor capable of detecting heavy metals in much smaller concentrations than today's state-of-the-art methods.
“The system currently being used to test for mercury and its very toxic derivative, methyl mercury, is a time-intensive process that costs millions of dollars and can only detect quantities at already toxic levels,” says Bartosz Grzybowski, lead author of the study, in the university press release covering the research. “Ours can detect very small amounts, over a million times smaller than the state-of-the-art current methods. This is important because if you drink polluted water with low levels of mercury every day, it could add up and possibly lead to diseases later on. With this system consumers would one day have the ability to test their home tap water for toxic metals.”