Water quality is a global concern. Almost 1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water and 2 million die every year from unsafe water. Even in the United States, it is estimated that as many as 2,000,000 households have drinking water with dangerously high levels of nitrate, a serious threat to infants (methemoglobinemia, more commonly known as "blue baby syndrome", inhibits oxygen transport by red blood cells).
Due to adverse environmental impacts from industry, inadequate and aging municipal infrastructure, and general shortcomings of regulatory systems, there is an express need for everyday citizen's to take more responsibility in the monitoring the environmental health of their world. Beyond our own health and safety, this need is especially vital if we want to ensure a sustainable future for our children. However, the scientific equipment and technical training required to accomplish this task is beyond the reach of most citizens, even in wealthy nations like the United States. In response to this great social need, we're developing a low-cost, high-accuracy, and extremely versatile sensor technology that makes use of nanotechnology and integrates with mobile devices: MoboSens.
MoboSens will give anyone with a smartphone the ability to measure the concentration of common pollutants - like nitrate, arsenic, chromium, lead - in water (municipal supply, private wells) and even soil (if properly prepared). The platform will enable them to share that information through the Internet. How that data improves human health and safety, as well as fosters more effective regulatory systems, could be revolutionary.
About the Project
Our innovative project is a mobile sensor platform that is both affordable and possesses the accuracy and precision of expensive bench-top laboratory equipment. Our platform, through integration with mobile communications, enables spatial reporting of quantitative environmental data through our public data repository. If funded, we will develop a field-ready handheld water quality sensor for heavy metal (initial focus on arsenic) and nitrate detection. We have already validated our sensing technique for nitrate, but the hardware and casing needs refinement before it will be ready for field use. Future sensing targets include phosphate and bacteria.
We're a team of engineers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. We're applying nanotechnology in new and exciting ways, building better sensors that cost less and can be scaled for global use. We're focused on improving environmental monitoring and health & human safety. We're passionate about removing barriers to advanced scientific instruments and coupling these devices with other disruptive technologies, like social media and geospatial information systems. We're building MoboSens because we want our research to mean something more than journal publications - we want to improve the world we live in.
Dr. Logan Liu, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Manas Gartia, Doctoral Candidate in Nuclear, Plasma and Radiological Engineering
Xinhao Wang, Doctoral Candidate in Electrical and Computer Engineering
Jing "Jimmy" Jiang, Doctoral Candidate in Electrical and Computer Engineering
Te-Wei Chang, Doctoral Candidate in Electrical and Computer Engineering
Tristan Wietsma, Doctoral Candidate at the Illinois Informatics Institute
Caleb Qian, Graduate Student in Electrical and Computer Engineering
Will Wang, Senior Undergraduate in Computer Engineering
Stage of the Project and What Your Contribution Means
This project builds on technologies developed through research that we have dedicated our professional and personal lives towards. We have already developed a prototype version of our low-cost handheld sensor for nitrate measurement. The performance of this proof-of-concept device is impressive; we're detecting nitrate down to 25 parts-per-billion at a fraction of the cost of typical methods. We have field validated data sharing using Twitter. While we're very happy with our proof-of-concept, but we're nowhere near full potential.
We anticipate the project will take up to two years to reach full scale for all planned sensing targets. We plan to start deploying our sensor for nitrate measurement within the next 6 months, working with citizen scientist groups (research institutes, NGOs) in Illinois. If this early testing proves successful, we'll scale up as needed. Given our sensor's construction process, we are confident that contract manufacturing will be able to easily produce our hardware at low cost and high quality. We're also developing partnerships with individuals, non-profits, and for-profit companies that share our vision.
Currently, using on-campus rapid prototyping facilities, we can make our sensor hardware for under $200 per unit. Once scaled beyond 500 units, we estimate that price will drop substantially under $100. In addition to expanding sensing capabilities (our next focus is on heavy metals), money raised will go towards improving the device for mass manufacture and producing an initial batch to be validated by citizen scientists affiliated the University of Illinois.