Heavy metal detection

Dr Conor Hogan has pioneered a new approach to detect heavy metals in contaminated water

Around 500,000 people die each year from drinking water contaminated with heavy metals.

Analytical chemists Dr Mohammad Reza Moghaddam, Dr Serena Carrara and Dr Conor Hogan have developed a new way to detect heavy metals in water which is fast and accurate. Their research, published in Chemical Communications, promises to make environmental analysis more accessible to non-scientists.

“Our sensor uses a technique called bipolar electrochemiluminescence,” explains Hogan. “When electricity is applied to the sensor, it triggers a chemical reaction. The sensor glows different colours depending on the type and amount of heavy metal in the sample. We have used this method this to detect copper and cadmium.”

Traditional methods are often slow and complicated, increasing demand for sensors which offer fast results, on-site. “With this approach, we can get a result in seconds,” added Hogan. “It's an important step in our quest to simplify chemical analysis.”

Hogan’s research highlights the work of the Biomedical and Environmental Sensor Technology (BEST) Research Centre, specialising in sensing and imaging technologies.

“We use sensors to do everything from diagnosing diseases and monitoring the environment, to improving industrial process efficiency and ensuring food quality,” said Hogan. “They enhance our quality of life by providing essential information about our health and the environment. In particular, they are at the fore-front of the emerging areas of digital health and personalised medicine.”

The BEST Centre, headed by Hogan, aims to bring together a diverse range of expertise from academia and industry. Cross-disciplinary projects include improving disease detection accuracy, developing miniaturised instrumentation for environmental and healthcare tests, and new cell imaging techniques.