The ElecTrobe project aims to turn smartphones into portable wine testing devices that can detect sulfur dioxide levels in wine – faster, cheaper and more accurately than current methods.
ElecTrobe inventor, Associate Professor Conor Hogan from the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science, and his team have used the inbuilt audio functions of a mobile phone to make chemical measurements which would usually need to be carried out in a lab.
The researchers will now work on a Proof of Concept, using funding from La Trobe’s Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF) – an early stage investment fund created to help maximise La Trobe research impact.
“Mobile phone technology is so sophisticated these days that our smartphones have become more than communication devices,” Associate Professor Hogan said.
“La Trobe University’s investment will help us create a useable product that will benefit Australia’s $6.6 billion wine industry by helping them optimise the quality of wines during production.
La Trobe Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Professor Keith Nugent, said the ElecTrobe project is one of the first to receive SIF funding from the University.
“Associate Professor Hogan’s team is conducting world-leading research that could have a big impact on the wine industry,” Professor Keith Nugent said.
“La Trobe’s investment in their work is a reflection of our commitment to helping our talented researchers to achieve real outcomes beyond the lab.”
Associate Professor Hogan has collaborated with La Trobe electronic engineer, Dr Darrell Elton, to invent the ElecTrobe, based on a method they call android voltammetry.
“The process works by plugging wires into the phone’s audio jack and tapping into the electronics that operate the phone’s microphone,” Mr Elton explained.
“The wires are then attached to a disposable electrochemical test strip. The power we source from the phone allows us to detect sulfur dioxide in wine – in a similar way to testing blood sugars using a blood glucose monitor.”
Dr Hogan added the advantage of the ElecTrobe was that there was no need to create a separate device.
“Once fully developed, the ElecTrobe will allow winemakers to dip a disposable test strip attached to their phone directly into their wine and with the push of a button get an accurate sulfites reading within a few seconds straight onto an app. The data can then be stored in a cloud for analysis and future reference.”
The Hogan team is collaborating with the National Wine and Grape Industry Centre (NWGIC) at Charles Sturt University (CSU) in Wagga Wagga to develop the ElecTrobe.
Centre Director, Professor Leigh Schmidtke, said the technology had the potential to revolutionise winemaking.
“Testing for sulfur dioxide is a critical part of winemaking, but current methods are painfully slow, inaccurate or can be unreliable,” Professor Schmidtke said.
“Winemakers add it to wine to limit oxidation reactions and control growth of unwanted bacteria, mould and yeasts, but too much may inhibit or event prevent fermentation and cause undesirable flavours and aromas.
“Winemakers will be celebrating news that we are developing a more efficient and portable method of testing. It is great news for the industry and for those who enjoy drinking quality wines.”
About the La Trobe Strategic Innovation Fund
The La Trobe University Strategic Innovation Fund is an early stage investment fund that makes Proof of Concept, seed and follow-on investments into the intellectual property developed at La Trobe. The $5 million fund has been established by La Trobe Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar from returns on the University’s long-term investment portfolio. It is designed to help maximise the economic, social or cultural impact derived from the research and teaching conducted at La Trobe.
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