The pollution of water or food is a big issue all over the world. Government or hygienics are using various methods for recognizing pollutants, most of them are slow and expensive. Slovak university start-up SAFTRA Photonics is developing a solution to make this process faster and cheaper.
The company, a spin-off from the P. J. Safarik University in Kosice, is developing a portable device for pre-screening of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in food products and water.
“POPs are ubiquitous chemical substances that persist in the environment and bioaccumulate in humans mainly through feeding,” Pavol Miskovsky, the head of the Center for Interdisciplinary Biosciences at the P. J. Safarik University, explains for InnovateCEE.
The majority of these pollutants are pesticides whose presence is more extended, while the rest is related to industrial processes. They cause harmful effects which include damage in the reproductive health or even cancer. Slovak Scientists are working at the chip that can detect contamination in any food and water at a cost-effective price and in a reduced time-span, with a simpler procedure.
”It is an innovation based on combination of nanotechnology, fotonics and organic chemistry. It can be useful as well in sports for detecting a doping or in security sector for detection of toxins or explosives,” Miskovsky explains. The project has recently received prestigious funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME), Phase II.
How it works
In reality the detection of the pollution Nanoscreen chip works this way: the chip is dipped into water or you dropped a dropwater on its surface, after it is illuminated by laser with certain wave frequency.The polluted molecules are afterwards identified by Surfaced Enhanced Raman Scattering (SERS).
”You can imagine it as scanning the bar code specific for each molecule,” prof. Miškovsky explains for Innovate CEE.
The technology, already as an prototype working in the lab,it is based on the chip that contains a specialy tailored nanostructural surface in order to detect and select polluted molecules. The technolog is also in the process of patenting. The advantage of that technology is that it is cheaper and faster than other the most extended analytic methods of detecting water and food pollution.
“Nowadays for detecting POPs gas chromatography or mass spectroscopy are used. Both these methods are more expensive and time-consuming and moreover they require a laborious sample preparation and they do not enable to do analysis on the spot,” Miškovsky explains.
The functioning of the Nanoscreen device makes the way of detecting pollution in food and water much easier and functional. Sample collection can be done by non-specialists and analysis can be achieved within 10 minutes. In comparison, older methods take hours or days.
Moreover the Nanoscreen chip enables to have a competitive price per analysis. The major challenge for the company is to build an engineering unit and to achieve chip mass production. Prof. Miškovsky expects that this technology can reach its payback two years after the beginning of its commercialization, that is planed in 2019. The scientist hopes that this technology can be used worldwide.
Analysis of cultural heritage artefacts
Another example of usage of the combination of nanotechnology and fotonics is an analysis of cultural heritage artefacts such as old paintings or historical writings. The Nanoscreen technology enables to identify pigments used on the painting and to specify the era of creation of the paintings or writings.