Two University of Texas at Arlington researchers and Texas-based technology company Chipotle Business Group have been awarded nearly $200,000 by the National Science Foundation to develop an affordable and environmentally-friendly field analyzer for measuring arsenic levels in water.
The device is being developed by Purnendu “Sandy” Dasgupta, UT Arlington‘s Jenkins Garrett Professor of Chemistry, who was working on research funded by a previous National Science Foundation grant. He will now direct the new project, along with Aditya Das, Senior Research Scientist at the UT Arlington Research Institute, and Scott Evans, President and Co-Founder of Chipotle Business Group.
Dasgupta’s new device, which was just one of less than thirty chemistry research projects in the U.S. designated as an “Exemplar of Excellence” by the NSF’s 2010 Chemistry Committee of Visitors, detects arsenic based on intense chemiluminescence, which is a light emitted by a chemical reaction that occurs during the gas phase reaction of the arsenic compound arsine and ozone. The detector uses a graphite cathode and electrical power provided by a rechargeable battery. Results can show arsenic contamination to sub-part per billion levels without using toxic chemicals employed in other testing methods.
“In developing countries, indigenous groundwater arsenic contamination is a very big problem, so it makes sense to build some way to detect this element in water so that we can classify what water is drinkable and what is not in remote areas,” said Das. “Dr. Dasgupta’s approach allows for detection of two different types of arsenic in a very ‘green’ way.”
Das expects that the device will be “very easy to use and very informative.” It could reach the market at a cost below $5,000, and will be invaluable for government or charity organizations with the objective of protecting public health.
“This partnership demonstrates how university researchers can work together with industry to get their technology into the hands of those that can benefit,” said Evans, a UT Arlington alumnus who owns a company focusing on analyzing water around the world. In addition to working with Dasgupta and Das on designing the product, Chipotle will research the market and create a business plan for the arsenic analyzer. Further help with the business plan will come from students from a class taught by Bob Rogers, Clinical Professor of Marketing at UT Arlington.
Indian-born Dasgupta, who also has family connections in Bangladesh, a country disproportionately affected by arsenic contamination, says that he still feels “umbilical connections to that part of the world,” and is ready to do “whatever I can do to improve things there,” since it “is merely an effort to pay back an infinitesimal amount of what I owe.”
Arsenic acceptable levels have been set at 10 micrograms per liter by the WHO. Methods of detection currently in use fail to detect such small amounts for lack of sensitivity. Questions of safe disposal arise as well, since the analyzers use toxic chemicals such as lead and mercury.
The World Health Organization lists arsenic as one of ten chemicals representing a major public health concern, as millions of people from developing countries are at risk of chronic exposure. Such chronic exposure to arsenic, which can lead to fatal cancers, among other serious health problems, has occurred in the U.S.
Headquartered in Fort Worth, UT Arlington Research Institute, or UTARI, works with scientists on the University’s main campus to identify commercially-applicable projects. A prototype of Dasgupta’s concept that can be used for field work will be built, according to Das.
The NSF’s Partnerships for Innovation: Accelerating Innovation Research – Technology Translation program awarded the additional funding for the project. The 18-month grant began June 1st.