West Virginia University researchers are working on developing a portablebiosensor to detect toxic metals in drinking water, rivers, oceans, soils and seafood.

The project, funded by a $300,000 National Science Foundation grant, focuses on creating a reliable, convenient and cost-effective way to identify and monitor concentration levels of heavy metals in water sources.

Our goal is to combine nanotechnology with biotechnology to develop a sensor that will reduce the risk of environmental and human exposure to heavy metal toxins and to increase the ease and convenience of analysis,said NianqiangNickWu , assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and the lead researcher on the project.

Nanotechnology is the study and manipulation of matter finer than the hair on your grandfathers scalp. Biotechnology is technology based on biology, especially when used in agriculture, food science and medicine.

Heavy metals such as mercury, lead, copper, cadmium and zinc, which are highly toxic contaminants, can infiltrate water sources and cause serious environmental pollution as well as human health problems.

Currently, Wu said, detecting toxic metals requires large-scale analytical instruments that are labor-intensive, time-consuming and laboratory-based and require large sample volumes. They cannot be used for on-site detection of toxic metals in real time.

In contrast, Wu and fellow researchers Larry Hornak , professor of computer science and electrical engineering, and XiaodongMikeShi , assistant professor of chemistry, are working on developing a sensor that will be portable and able to detect heavy metal pollutants in a water source in real time.

The new sensor also will periodically monitor the quality of water for drinking, as well as for use by industrial and agricultural applications, Wu added.

All of the researchers involved in the project are part of the WVNano Initiative . The WVNano Initiative is WVU s focal point for discovery and innovation in nanoscale science, engineering and education. Elevated to a statewide initiative in 2006 through a National Science Foundation EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement grant, the WVNano Initiative continues its leadership role in partnership with other state institutions.

WVNano on the Web: http://wvnano.wvu.edu/