Mercury pollution causes hazardous environmental and health issues, such as heart, kidney, stomach, and gene damage. The EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act set maximum mercury contaminant levels at 2 ppb. Most mercury detection sensors are colorimetric and fail to quantify mercury levels. Additionally, interference from coexisting metal ions often result in false positives.

University of Utah researchers have invented a low cost, point-of-use optical sensor for mercury detection and quantification in water. The new sensor exhibits sensitive and selective detection of mercury directly in aqueous solutions through fluorescence quenching. The fluorescent molecule dims in the presence of mercury to enable detection at low levels. Companion software that uses optical detection of the fluorescing molecule quantifies the mercury concentration and enables rapid, portable mercury detection. The sensor exhibits high stability and offers superior detection performance compared to traditional molecular fluorescence sensors.