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Sensors for detecting explosives and monitoring food products

A research team of chemists from the University of Houston has developed new materials that could be used in the production of sensing devices to detect explosives and to monitor the quality and expiration of foodstuffs.

Rigoberto Advincula
Rigoberto Advincula

"There are many dangerous substances, from pollutants to infectious bacteria, that we are regularly exposed to," said researcher Rigoberto Advincula, a materials science expert at the University of Houston. "Our research attempts to aid in efforts to rapidly detect explosives or other prohibited substances at airports in the field of homeland security, as well as in the monitoring of commercial products such as milk and pet food products for additives found at abnormal levels."

The researchers started by developing the polymer material, then made a final device that served as a sensor. The research is based on the idea that the researcher calls "the artificial receptor concept". "This is similar to an enzyme that functions as a biochemical catalyst inside the cell, such as an antibody that binds to specific molecules to initiate biological activity in the cell. The components used by this research group are metal and plastic materials called molecularly imprinted polymers (molecular imprinted polymers, MIP), an idea also used in making antibodies from plastic. These polymers have a defined chemical affinity to the target molecule and are used to develop sensors.

The layers were produced by the "electrodeposition" method, a process similar to the electroplating method of metals, which is common in the metal and automotive industries. The innovative component of the researchers was the use of a process known as "electrochemical polymerization" (electropolymerization) directly by a gold surface connected to a digital measuring device. The researchers' next step is to place this innovative layer inside mobile devices and thus receive sensors.

"The methods and materials we used enable the development of applications in the fields of mobile devices and the ability to minimize components. "Our device will allow, in principle, the development of manual scanners to detect bombs or nerve gas in airports," said the researcher. "In other words, we can get an accurate and quick answer without losing time and without the use of complex equipment. We are able to achieve a high level of sensory sensitivity and selectivity. The design of our molecules and their production method were developed in a simple, yet effective way."

The research findings were published in three different prestigious journals at the same time: Macromolecules, Applied Materials & Interfaces and- Biosensors & Bioelectronics.

The scientists hope to expand the research in the coming year to many other types of dangerous chemicals as well as to proteins emitted by disease-causing microorganisms. Ultimately, the researchers plan to develop handheld and portable sensing devices that will be commercially available to the general public, as well as be of importance to the military and the security and safety sectors.

The news about the study

One response

  1. It sounds quite important, it's good that such technology is developing early.
    Those who got it, got it

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