Scientists from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) have developed a portable device, inspired by the ability of the human body, to detect trace levels of heavy metals in drinking water in just five minutes.
After binding, it prevents the heavy metal ions from interacting with other molecules and enzymes in the body, and marks it for excretion from the body.
Combining a chelating agent with an optical measurement system, Associate Professor Yong Ken-Tye and Professor Tjin Swee Chuan from the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering developed a device that generates test results quickly without needing to bring samples back, making the device convenient for on-site water testing.
Drinking water quality is typically monitored via laboratory tests as heavy metals cannot be identified by colour, taste, or odour, unless present at high levels.
There are some portable devices on the market that can detect heavy metal contaminants quickly, but may require the additional step of mixing the water sample with a buffer solution before the test can be performed.
Other mobile alternatives include those that use metal electrodes such as mercury as a sensing probe, which could introduce heavy metal contaminants back into the environment, and test strips that change in colour when they come into contact with heavy metals but leads to results that rely on subjective readings of the strip.