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Water Today Title December 11, 2017

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Updated 05/12/14


Courtney Griffin

An amazing new technology developed by researcher Simjareet Saini of the University of Waterloo has the ability to test for, and reveal, water contamination in just minutes. The tiny chip can be placed in a water sample, where any contamination would cause it to change colour. If no contamination is found, the chip would not change colour and could be reused in future testing.

Simjareet is originally from India where, he says, approximately 68% of water is contaminated; this inspired him to develop the technology. "It is expected to be beneficial world-wide including in Canada not only in water but also in food areas too and later in medical testing. For example in Canada, municipalities have to test water periodically; people with wells need to get their water tested etc."

The future possibilities of the chip's uses are still not entirely known. "The chip is a platform technology in that it can be used for other detection purposes also. One area where we are currently working on specifically for Canadian populace is to find pathogens in food e.g. salmonella in chicken, lettuce etc. For the water purpose, there is a need to do quick quality testing by municipalities and also in public and private swimming pools. For example, we are currently building a cell-phone based sensor to measure chlorine content in water."

He aims to one day have this technology available to the general public, which will allow widespread, quick, and accurate water testing at affordable rates. Simjareet has revealed that one of his students is working on a start-up company which will commercialize the technology.

In addition to revealing any contamination, Simjareet notes that the goal is to have the technology be modular, meaning that a variety of chip types will be available. "At its first and lowest cost level, it just tells you whether the water is safe to drink or not. At lab grade testing level, it can also tell which type of pathogen is present and in what concentrations." The modularity of the technology will allow greater versatility, and therefore have a greater worldwide impact.

As for the initial goal of testing for water contamination, "The chip will allow in-situ testing rather than sending the samples to a lab. We have started to do experiments in India first because the water problem is acute there, the water is really bad quality and thus, the technology demonstrations are easier. As we test the technology, we can fine tune it easier there."

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