Researchers create smartphone system to test for lead in water

Researchers at the University of Houston have developed an inexpensive framework using a smartphone and a lens made with an inkjet printer that can detect lead in tap water at levels commonly accepted as dangerous.

Researchers built a self-contained smartphone microscope that can operate in both fluorescence and dark-field imaging modes and paired it with an inexpensive Lumina 640 smartphone with an 8-megapixel camera. Credit: University of Houston

The discovery of lead in Flint, Michigan's drinking water drew renewed attention to the health risks posed by the metal. Now researchers at the University of Houston have developed an inexpensive framework using a smartphone and a lens made with an inkjet printer that can detect lead in tap water at levels commonly accepted as dangerous.


The system builds upon previous work by Wei-Chuan Shih, associate professor of electrical & computer engineering, and members of his lab, including the discovery of an inexpensive elastomer lens that can convert a basic smartphone into a microscope.
The current discovery combines nano-colorimetry with dark-field microscopy, integrated into the smartphone microscope platform to detect levels of lead below the safety threshold set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The researchers said, "Smartphone nano-colorimetry is rapid, low-cost, and has the potential to enable individual citizens to examine lead content in  on-demand in virtually any environmental setting."
By using an inexpensive smartphone equipped with an inkjet-printed lens and using the dark-field imaging mode, researchers were able to produce a system that was both portable and easy to operate, as well as able to detect lead concentrations at 5 parts per billion in . The sensitivity reached 1.37 parts per billion in deionized water.
Shih and his students last year research was published in Biomedical Optics Express, explaining how to convert a smartphone equipped with the elastomer lens into a microscope capable of fluorescence microscopy. That paper has been the journal's most frequently downloaded paper since its publication.
This application incorporates color analysis to detect nanoscale lead particles. In addition to Shih, researchers on the project include first author Hoang Nguyen and Yulung Sung, Kelly O'Shaughnessy and Xiaonan Shan, all with the UH Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering.
Applying the dataset published in 2017, the researchers built a self-contained smartphone microscope that can operate in both fluorescence and dark-field imaging modes and paired it with an inexpensive Lumina 640 smartphone with an 8-megapixel camera. They spiked tap water with varying amounts of lead, ranging from 1.37 parts per billion to 175 parts per billion. They then added chromate ions, which react with the lead to form lead chromate nanoparticles; the nanoparticles can be detected by combining colorimetric analysis and microscopy.
The analysis measured both the intensity detected from the nanoparticles, correlating that to the lead concentration, and verified that the reaction was spurred by the presence of lead.
The mixture was transferred to a polydimethylsiloxane slab attached to a glass slide; after it dried, deionized water was used to rinse off the chromate compound and the remaining sediment was imaged for analysis.
The microscopy imaging capability proved essential, Shih said, because the quantity of sediment was too small to be imaged with an unassisted smartphone camera, making it impossible to detect relatively low levels of lead.
Building upon the smartphone microscope platform to create a useful consumer product was key, Shih said. "We wanted to be sure we could do something that would be useful from the standpoint of detecting lead at the EPA standard," he said.
This discovery is published in the journal Analytical Chemistry.
Source: Phys.org

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Scien-Tech News: Researchers create smartphone system to test for lead in water
Researchers create smartphone system to test for lead in water
Researchers at the University of Houston have developed an inexpensive framework using a smartphone and a lens made with an inkjet printer that can detect lead in tap water at levels commonly accepted as dangerous.
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