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New technology opens up horizons

Media release

Curtin University of Technology researchers are developing technology that will provide an unparalleled ability to explore environments as diverse as the oceans and rivers, and the human body.

Using ion-selective electrode technology, Curtin researchers are developing a hand-held, field deployable or implantable device using self-calibrating sensors that will be able to cheaply and easily monitor pollution in rivers, or heparin levels as a clotting factor in human blood.

The study is led by Professors Eric Bakker, recipient of a prestigious 2009 Australian Research Council Australian Professorial Fellowship and Roland De Marco, awarded the RACI Lloyd Symthe Medal for Excellence in Analytical Chemistry in 2008.

Professor Bakker, Professor of Nanochemistry and Director of Curtin’s Nanochemistry Research Institute, said the successful development of the sensors would make Australia a leader in ion-selective sensor technology.

“This is a great opportunity for Curtin academics and post-graduate students to lead the world with a new technological development,” he said.

Although ion-selective electrode technology, and the sensors that are derived from it, have been around for some time, the Curtin research will help make the sensors more accurate, powerful and independent from human control.

“Modern equipment already allows us to conduct tests close to the site with sensor technology, but the instrument is bulky and costly, because of the need to recalibrate the systems on a regular basis,” Professor Bakker said.

“In practice, every single measurement step is compared to a signal for a solution of known composition, requiring storage solutions, valves, pumps, and carefully controlled experimental conditions.

“If it works as intended, this technology will eliminate the need for recalibration, allowing for the real time collection of data in a range of environments, in a truly miniaturised instrument.”

For Professor De Marco, Professor of Chemistry and Dean of Research in the Science and Engineering Faculty, the range of applications for this technology is almost boundless.

“These self-calibrating sensors will ultimately provide researchers and medical practitioners with the ability to conduct a greater range of environmental and medical monitoring,” he said.

“These sensors, which are becoming increasingly miniaturised, can fit into easy-to-use hand-held and field deployable monitoring devices, making a range of tests faster, cheaper and more efficient to conduct.

“It will also be possible to use these sensors to study the influence of man-made and natural events on lakes, rivers and oceans by measuring nutrients such as nitrates, ammonia, phosphates and other substances in water.

“This will be an invaluable tool as we strive to preserve and protect our natural environment for this and future generations.”

This research is supported by CSIRO Future Manufacturing Flagship Cluster funding and the Australian Research Council, and commenced in early 2009.

CSIRO’s Future Manufacturing Flagship Director, Clive Davenport, welcomed these advances in sensor development.

“These developments will enable the fast tracking of the application of new sensor technologies for the Australian manufacturing industry,” he said.


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