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Biosensor tests water in real-time to detect contamination

16 Oct 2015  | Carolyn Mathas

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Former Technical University of Denmark students have created a biosensor that can detect water contamination in real time. Water can be tested at the source and action taken to prevent further problems.

There are so many uses for sensors and they truly are ubiquitous. Once in a while, however, I hear of an application and a rapidly performing sensor that hits home. Several times, I've been concerned about contaminated water, in one case for my animals (and I actually did have reason to worry). In another case, I lived offshore and, although we were told that the tap water was safe, I always wondered. It was discovered that a community an hour away had major contamination issues.

The problem is, before you know it's contaminated, you've most likely been drinking a lot of it. Traditional water tests involve the process of taking a sample, culturing it, and getting results and information about what the contaminating culprit may be. All of this takes up to a week, leaving the water potentially causing illness or even death before the results are known.

SBT Aqua sensor

The SBT Aqua sensor works via impedance flow cytometry

The sensor, offered by startup SBT Aqua, works via impedance flow cytometry whereby a liquid sample is injected into a microfluidic channel with integrated electrodes and a voltage signal applied. The bacteria and particles under test cause a change in impedance. The impedance change for bacteria is different compared with non-organic particles. All bacteria species are detected.

SBT Aqua will offer a product that performs online and real-time measurements of the bacteria level in water with no pre-treatment of the sample, no incubation time and no manual sample handling. A key advantage is that it will enable the introduction of sensor networks, where the sensors will collectively monitor multiple sample points in real time throughout the entire water distribution network instead of sporadically monitoring single sample points, which is the current process.

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