Researchers Create Smartphone System That Can Detect Lead in Tap Water

Monday, October 1, 2018 - 15:51

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

According to the university official website, the system 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.”

“Smartphone nano-colorimetry is rapid, low-cost, and has the potential to enable individual citizens to examine (lead) content in drinking water on-demand in virtually any environmental setting,” the researchers wrote.

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 tap water. The sensitivity reached 1.37 parts per billion in deionized water.

The system builds upon earlier 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 new system comes amid the ongoing Flint water crisis. The crisis, which started in 2014, originated after lead from water pipes infiltrated the drinking water of residents in Flint, Michigan.

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