The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) has announced its role in co-leading an effort funded by the National Science Foundation to develop advanced and inexpensive devices to detect toxins in water and people. Shuk-Mei Ho, Ph.D., vice chancellor for Research and Innovation, is the leader for the UAMS team, which is receiving $908,952 of the $6 million overall budget.
Titled “Facilitating Ubiquitous Technology Utilizing Resilient Eco-friendly Sensors (FUTURE Sensors),” the four year project is funded through the NSF Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), a federal-state partnership program that aims to enhance research competitiveness of targeted states and other jurisdictions.
A major goal of the project is to harness emerging technologies to develop an affordable new generation of tests for heavy metal toxins in people and to significantly increase the frequency of monitoring for toxins that leach into surface and groundwater, UAMS stated in its announcement.
“This project represents an exciting convergence of technological advances to create a new class of sensors,” Ho said. “We believe the innovations that result from our work can revolutionize both the water testing industry as well as testing for toxic heavy metals in humans.”
The UAMS team will focus its efforts on studying human sensors with carbon dots (fluorescent nanomaterials) that can detect heavy metals in urine from volunteer study participants. Existing methods for detecting heavy metals require expensive and complex processes such as atomic spectroscopy. With new technologies at their disposal, they hope to create cheaper sensors that are noninvasive and can be used on-site.
The water monitoring system, likewise, aims to create printable sensors using biodegradable materials that can relay contaminate information in real time using cell phone technology. Once created, the team plans to commercialize these sensors, turning them into an economic boon for EPSCoR jurisdictions. Moreover, the use of these sensors will help protect vulnerable communities that are disproportionately exposed to toxic chemicals, and the program will broaden the participation of underrepresented groups in STEM fields.
For more information about UAMS, visit its website.