Building a low-cost sensor that monitors water quality

The Inspiration

I believe that clean water is a human right. Yet developing countries often lack the capacity to detect and remove toxic metals from their water supply. If you’re exposed to those metals — mercury, cadmium, arsenic and lead — in your water every day, they accumulate in your body. As they accumulate, they can severely affect your health. They can lower IQs in children, damage organs in people of any age and more. My research team is trying to develop a low-cost testing device — a colorimetric sensor — for toxic metals in water.

The Process

The first step was putting together a multidisciplinary team: graduate students with expertise in sensing technologies, nanotechnology and analytical chemistry. Together, we prepared innovative nanosensors, which have been granted patent by the United States Patent and Trademark Office; assembled sensor strips; ran tests and compared results. Those results were qualitative; they provided only a yes/no answer for the presence of a specific toxic metal. Similar to pregnancy tests, the color of each sensor strip changes in the presence of a specific toxic metal. We have also developed a portable device that can measure the intensity of the developed color and, therefore, produce quantitative results — numbers that can be used to assess the exact level of toxic metals in water.

The Next Steps

The next phase of our project is very exciting. We’ll develop a tool that can help remove toxic metals from water. In everything we do, we’re guided by the idea that our research should contribute practical solutions to address national and global challenges.


Simply put, the devices we produce will help communities, especially those in remote locations dependent on underground water, to monitor their water quality. Local authorities will be able to assess the toxicity of metals in their water, giving them the information they need to warn community members of danger or to ensure that their water is safe for drinking or other uses.

Four toxic metals — MERCURY, CADMIUM, ARSENIC AND LEAD — are among the World Health Organization’s Top 10 Chemicals of Major Public Concern.

The Future

AUC is one of the best places in Egypt to conduct innovative research. The high-caliber faculty, the industrious students, the advanced facilities and instruments — these are all important factors. But the culture of AUC is important too. This is a University that encourages multidisciplinary research, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Read about the newly inaugurated AUC and Alexandria University Center of Excellence for Water.

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