App could revolutionise water testing

2013-05-27 07:27
The wedge-shaped cradle contains lenses and filters which are found in much larger and more expensive laboratory devices. (Photo: Brian T. Cunningham)

The wedge-shaped cradle contains lenses and filters which are found in much larger and more expensive laboratory devices. (Photo: Brian T. Cunningham)

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Cape Town – A new smartphone application could revolutionise the way groundwater specialists test for contamination in South African water says a local expert.

University of Illinois researchers have developed a cradle and iPhone application which uses the phone’s built-in camera as a biosensor to detect toxins and other molecules.

The wedge-shaped cradle contains lenses and filters which are found in much larger and more expensive laboratory devices.

UIS laboratories chemist, Jan-Daniel Vorster, said the traditional method for testing groundwater samples is specialised and time-consuming.

“It involves Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry in a complex analysis which could take up to fifty minutes per sample on big instruments that cost between R500 000 and R2m,” he told News24.

Despite the cradle only holding $200 (about R1 900) worth of optical components, Illinois News Bureau reports that it can operate as accurately as a large $50 000 spectrophotometer in a laboratory and only take a fraction of the time, making it more affordable to do fieldwork in developing nations.

Presently, groundwater testing in South Africa involves a number of technologies and a broad range of water probes.

Groundwater quality

According to Infrastructurenews, South Africa’s groundwater resources supply about 15% of the the total volume of water consumed nationally.

Most of South Africa’s groundwater quality problems are related to human activities like industry, mining, urban development and the intensification of agricultural practices.

Bill Boonzaier, director of GEO water systems, a supplier of water instruments, says a mobile testing device may add value to the industry and would be marketable.

“It could speed up data response times and will be a big advantage,”he told News24. “Specialists won’t have to carry around the samples which deteriorate with time.”

A further benefit, according to Boonzaier, would be the potential to perform testing at the site of the borehole.

“This will reduce the delay time of about two weeks when waiting for results from the laboratory,” he said.


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