Waste products from mining and industrial manufacturing as well as heavy use of pesticides have resulted in the accumulation of toxic heavy metals — such as arsenic, mercury and lead — in the soil and groundwater in many cities and farms across the country. Long-term exposure to these heavy metals through direct contact or the food supply has been linked to health problems involving the skin, kidneys, liver and the gastrointestinal and central nervous systems.
“Detecting and identifying these contaminants below the ground is a challenging task,” says civil and environmental engineering Prof. Pradeep Kurup. “Traditional methods involve core drilling and sampling in the field, followed by analysis in the lab. These methods are time-consuming, laborious and expensive. They also expose personnel to contaminated materials.”
Kurup and plastics engineering Assoc. Prof. Ramaswamy Nagarajan are conducting pioneering research to develop an electronic “tongue” for detecting and analyzing heavy metals on-site and in real time.
Funding for the research is provided through a three-year $422,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. Kurup is the principal investigator (PI) for the project while Nagarajan is the co-PI.