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Seminar | Physical Sciences and Engineering

Molecular Engineering of Real-Time Water Sensors Based on 2-D Nanomaterials to Enable Intelligent Water Systems

PSE Seminar

Abstract: The National Academy of Engineering identified providing access to clean water” as one of the top ten grand challenges for engineering in the 21st Century. A central requirement for safe drinking water is the availability of low-cost and real-time water quality monitoring. Current detection methods for critical analytes in water are often too expensive or unsuitable for in situ and real-time detection. The unmet need is evidenced by the insufficient onsite water quality monitoring along the water distribution line and at the point of use that has led to major catastrophes, such as the Flint Water Crisis.

This talk will unveil a powerful approach to real-time water sensors through molecular engineering of two-dimensional (2-D) nanomaterials in a field-effect transistor platform. The working principle of the sensor is that the conductivity of 2-D nanomaterial channel changes upon binding of chemical or biological species to molecular probes anchored on the nanomaterial surface. As such, the presence and the concentration of analytes (e.g., heavy metals, bacteria, and nutrients) can be determined by measuring the change in sensor electrical characteristics.

The patented technology allows for real-time detection of deadly contaminants with unprecedented sensitivity and selectivity in field settings for one-time testing or inline continuous flow testing. The sensor signals can be wirelessly transmitted to a central control station so that the health status of the entire water distribution system can be monitored remotely in real time. This smart water distribution system can significantly mitigate risks to ensure a safe water supply.

The talk will focus on the molecular engineering aspects of the sensor device (e.g., engineering nanomaterial channel, molecular probe, and device passivation) through both theoretical and experimental approaches. The talk will end with a brief introduction on the translation of the platform technology from concept to prototype product through partnership with industries.