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Researchers Develop Highly Sensitive Sensor with Three-Way Selectivity

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati have developed a novel sensor that integrates various testing methods such as selective partitioning, spectroscopy and electrochemistry into a single device. The sensor has been analyzed in several environments including components testing in radioactive waste.

Unlike conventional sensors featuring one or two selective modes, the UC sensor includes three modes of selectivity. It features three different methods to recognize a component of interest. Nuclear waste containers include a cluttered combination of both chemical and radioactive materials. Hence, the UC sensor can be used for precise identification of nuclear waste component. The basic layout and concept for this supervision can also be deployed in ecological and medical applications such as identification of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and dangerous heavy metals at superfund locations.

The study related to the new sensor will be discussed in a presentation titled ‘Using Spectroelectrochemistry to Improve Sensor Selectivity’ at the American Chemical Society biannual meeting. The event is scheduled to be held in Anaheim between March 27 and 31, 2011. William Heineman, Research Professor of Chemistry at the University of Cincinnati, will present the research.

The United States Department of Energy funded the research and the studies were started more than 10 years ago. Heineman mentioned that the US Department of Energy required a sensor that can be immersed in a storage tank to give quick and precise measurements or to be left in the tank over an extended period to observe the conditions inside. He added that the sensor is tough and sensitive.

The UC sensor was tested at the Hanford nuclear site. It was utilized to identify key radioactive component and dangerous wastes stored in the huge tanks.

The ‘three modes of selection’ feature is enabled by spectroscopy, electrochemistry and coatings. The selective coating enables the entry of only selective compounds in the sensing region. For instance, ions that are all negatively charged can be made to enter the sensor whereas ions that are positively charged can be barred. Even lesser group of compounds can be electrolyzed by applying a potential. In addition, a particular light wavelength is also utilized to identify the desired compound. All these features enable the identification and assessment of compounds that are present in minimum levels.

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