First concentrated, then analyzed – Nano Argovia project DeePest researchers are developing a portable system for drinking water analysis


In the Nano Argovia project DeePest, scientists from the Schools of Life Sciences and Engineering at the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW) are working alongside industry partner Mems AG (Birmenstorf) to develop a fully automatic sensor for detecting pesticides in drinking water. The system is intended to offer a cost-effective extension for existing analysis methods and to continuously detect the presence of a wide range of pesticides in drinking water systems.

Among other things, the DeePest project studies the fluorescent characteristics of pollutant molecules in water. (Image: J. Pascal, FHNW)

Two different sensors
In the first step, the pesticides are concentrated by several orders of magnitude so that, in the subsequent analysis, the researchers can use cost-effective methods whose sensitivity is tailored to the expected substrate concentrations. Working under project leader Professor Dr. Joris Pascal (FHNW), the interdisciplinary team bases its analysis on two different sensors, which exploit different physical properties and can therefore detect different classes of substance.

Initially, the scientists are focusing their efforts on detecting the pesticides glyphosate, atrazine and naphthalene. They are studying various nanostructured plastics that could be used to accumulate specific pesticides in a filter system. In parallel, they are developing cost-effective sensors that detect the presence of the three aforementioned pesticides.

Extension of existing systems
If the development process is a success, it will also be easy to extend the system to other classes of pollutant by fitting the filter cartridges with different absorbent plastics. The device could then conceivably be integrated into the drinking water cycle to ensure continuous monitoring. 

“We’re optimistic that we can expand our product range with the Nano Argovia project DeePest and provide a cheap, fully automatic pollutant sensor to monitor the drinking water cycle.”

Dr. Daniel Matter, Mems AG (Birmenstorf, AG)