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Engineering faculty partner for cleaner, safer water

Boise State faculty and researchers across the country received a $6 million National Science Foundation grant-funded effort to create printable sensors for water surveillance.

The four-year research proposal utilizes the NSF’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) to create printable sensors that measure the toxicity in surface and drinking water for widespread surveillance, while also identifying the levels of environmentally-produced toxins in at-risk human populations and for individual use.

Co-investigators from the Boise State College of Engineering include Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering associate professor and associate director of the Center of Advanced Energy Studies, David Estrada, and Electrical and Computer Engineering affiliate faculty Harish Subbaraman who will help lead the inks synthesis, sensor development, and integration aspects of the project.

“We are excited to bring new 2-dimensional material inks to develop novel water sensors,” Estrada said. “We aim to uncover the structure-property-processing correlations of printed 2D materials-based sensors, while providing rapid prototyping capabilities to expedite commercial adoption of developed technologies.”

The multidisciplinary project includes researchers from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, University of Alabama at Birmingham, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, and University of Arkansas Medical Sciences campus, where each group will provide unique services for the project.

At Boise State, Estrada and Subbaraman will lead the integration of printable sensor ink that will be used in biodegradable materials that can relay contaminate information in real time using cell phone technology, creating a low-cost water monitoring system.

“Boise State University will bring unique expertise and facilities in additive electronics manufacturing and nanomaterial ink synthesis and characterization in order to advance the printed sensor technology,” Subbaraman said.

The overall project is led by Terri Murray, Ph.D., at Louisiana Tech, where she is the associate professor of biomedical engineering and directs the Integrated Neuroscience and Imaging Lab Center for Biomedical Research and Rehabilitation Sciences.

“We are excited to receive funding from the National Science Foundation to develop FUTURE sensors,” Murray said. “These novel devices will transform the way we detect environmental pollutants in people and in our rivers and lakes.”

The multifaceted research team intends to commercialize its new sensor technologies to help foster academic and industrial partnerships to create jobs and tax revenues to improve the economies of EPSCoR jurisdictions in the larger sensor industry.

The project will also broaden the participation of underrepresented groups into STEM fields to help recruit, train, and retain a diverse workforce in the sensor industry.

-by Jamie Fink