Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors

Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button

Home > Press > Measuring mercury levels: Nano-velcro detects water-borne toxic metals

Coal plants like this one in West Chicago release mercury into the atmosphere which can end up in the water supply. This plant, the Crawford Generating Station, is among the last coal-fired plants to shut down in the city, and this move could help bring the already low mercury content in nearby Lake Michigan down even further. Image credit: Steve Geer, Chicago Image Gate
Coal plants like this one in West Chicago release mercury into the atmosphere which can end up in the water supply. This plant, the Crawford Generating Station, is among the last coal-fired plants to shut down in the city, and this move could help bring the already low mercury content in nearby Lake Michigan down even further.

Image credit: Steve Geer, Chicago Image Gate

Abstract:
A strip of glass covered in hairy nanoparticles can cheaply and conveniently measure mercury, which attacks the nervous system, and other toxic metals in fluids.

Measuring mercury levels: Nano-velcro detects water-borne toxic metals

Ann Arbor, MI | Posted on September 10th, 2012

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), Northwestern University and the University of Michigan found that their new method can measure methyl mercury, the most common form of mercury pollution, at unprecedentedly small concentrations. The system, which could test for metal toxins in drinking water and fish, is reported in the current edition of Nature Materials.

Methyl mercury dumped in lakes and rivers accumulates in fish, reaching its highest levels in large, predatory fish such as tuna and swordfish. Young children and pregnant women are advised to avoid eating these fish because mercury can affect the developing brain and nervous system. While metals in drinking water are measured periodically, these measurements say little about migratory fish, including tuna, which may pass through more polluted areas.

"The problem is that current monitoring techniques are too expensive and complex," said researcher Francesco Stellacci, the Constellium Chair holder at EPFL. "With a conventional method, you have to send samples to the laboratory, and the analysis equipment costs several million dollars."

Using the device invented by the Swiss-American team, measuring the mercury levels in water or dissolved fish meat is as simple as dipping a strip of coated glass into the fluid. Metals and metallic molecules, such as methyl mercury, typically become positively charged ions in water. When these ions drift between the hairy nanoparticles, the hairs close up, trapping the pollutant. Passing a current over the strip of glass reveals how many ions are caught in the "nano-velcro." Each ion allows the strip to conduct more electricity.

U-M researchers Hao Jiang and Sharon Glotzer, the Churchill Professor of Chemical Engineering, performed computer simulations that investigated how the nano-velcro traps pollutants. They showed that the hairy nanoparticles are choosey about which ions they capture, confirming that the strips can give reliable measures of specific toxins as demonstrated by the experimental findings of the Swiss group.

"By making detection of pollutants and toxins cheap and easy to do, more testing at the source will lead to safer foods on the dinner table and in kids' lunchboxes," Glotzer said.

The scientists targeted particular pollutants by varying the length of the nano-hairs. This approach is especially successful for methyl mercury, and the device can measure it with record-breaking accuracy, detecting concentrations as low as 600 methyl mercury ions per cubic centimeter of water. Fortunately, that level of precision won't break the bank. The researchers estimate that the coated glass strips could cost less than 10 dollars each, while the measurement device will cost only a few hundred dollars. It could gauge the concentration of metals onsite and within minutes.

The researchers tested their method in Lake Michigan, near Chicago.

"The goal was to compare our measurements to FDA measurements done using conventional methods," Stellacci said.

Despite the industrial activity in the region, mercury levels were extremely low, in agreement with the FDA's analysis. The team also tested a mosquito fish from the Everglades.

"We measured tissue that had been dissolved in acid. The goal was to see if we could detect even very minuscule quantities," said Bartosz Grzybowski, the K. Burgess Professor of Physical Chemistry and Chemical Systems Engineering at Northwestern University, noting the species is too low on the food chain to accumulate high levels of mercury.

The United States Geological Survey reported near-identical results after analyzing the same sample.

"With this technology, it will be possible to conduct tests on a much larger scale in the field, or even in fish before they are put on the market," said researcher Hyewon Kim, MIT student visiting EPFL.

Funding for this research came from ENI, via the ENI-MIT Alliance; the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency via a grant to MIT and U-M; and the U.S. Department of Energy via a Nonequilibrium Energy Research Center grant to Northwestern and the U-M.

####

For more information, please click here

Contacts:
Katherine McAlpine
Phone: (734) 763-4386

Copyright © University of Michigan

If you have a comment, please Contact us.

Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.

Bookmark:
Delicious Digg Newsvine Google Yahoo Reddit Magnoliacom Furl Facebook

Related Links

Sharon Glotzer:

Francesco Stellacci:

Bartosz Grzybowski:

Related News Press

News and information

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern July 21st, 2018

World's fastest man-made spinning object could help study quantum mechanics July 20th, 2018

Relax, just break it July 20th, 2018

Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers July 20th, 2018

Govt.-Legislation/Regulation/Funding/Policy

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern July 21st, 2018

World's fastest man-made spinning object could help study quantum mechanics July 20th, 2018

Relax, just break it July 20th, 2018

Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers July 20th, 2018

Sensors

Leti & Partners Launch Pilot Program to Assess New Perception Sensors for Autonomous Vehicles July 5th, 2018

New sensor technology enables super-sensitive live monitoring of human biomolecules July 3rd, 2018

A refined magnetic sense: Algorithms and hardware developed in the context of quantum computation are shown to be useful for quantum-enhanced sensing of magnetic fields July 2nd, 2018

NIST Researchers Simulate Simple Logic for Nanofluidic Computing June 30th, 2018

Discoveries

World's fastest man-made spinning object could help study quantum mechanics July 20th, 2018

Relax, just break it July 20th, 2018

Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers July 20th, 2018

The relationship between charge density waves and superconductivity? It's complicated July 19th, 2018

Announcements

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern July 21st, 2018

World's fastest man-made spinning object could help study quantum mechanics July 20th, 2018

Relax, just break it July 20th, 2018

Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers July 20th, 2018

Military

In borophene, boundaries are no barrier: Rice U., Northwestern researchers make and test atom-thick boron's unique domains July 17th, 2018

UMBC researchers develop nanoparticles to reduce internal bleeding caused by blast trauma July 13th, 2018

Carbon is the new black: Researchers use carbon nanotubes to develop clothing that can double as batteries July 10th, 2018

High-power electronics keep their cool with new heat-conducting crystals July 6th, 2018

Environment

FEFU scientists reported on toxicity of carbon and silicon nanotubes and carbon nanofibers: Nanoparticles with a wide range of applying, including medicine, damage cells of microalgae Heterosigma akashivo badly. July 18th, 2018

Nanomaterials could mean more algae outbreaks for wetlands, waterways: High tech metal particles may inadvertently take a toll on aquatic life June 26th, 2018

Squeezing light at the nanoscale: Ultra-confined light could detect harmful molecules June 17th, 2018

A nanotech sensor that turns molecular fingerprints into bar codes June 7th, 2018

Water

New sensor technology enables super-sensitive live monitoring of human biomolecules July 3rd, 2018

NIST Researchers Simulate Simple Logic for Nanofluidic Computing June 30th, 2018

Northwestern researchers achieve unprecedented control of polymer grids: Materials could find applications in water purification, solar energy storage, body armor June 22nd, 2018

Making quantum puddles: Physicists discover how to create the thinnest liquid films ever June 13th, 2018

Research partnerships

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern July 21st, 2018

World's fastest man-made spinning object could help study quantum mechanics July 20th, 2018

Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers July 20th, 2018

The relationship between charge density waves and superconductivity? It's complicated July 19th, 2018

NanoNews-Digest
The latest news from around the world, FREE



  Premium Products
NanoNews-Custom
Only the news you want to read!
 Learn More
NanoStrategies
Full-service, expert consulting
 Learn More











ASP
Nanotechnology Now Featured Books




NNN

The Hunger Project