Detecting Mercury Ions With Just a Tap

Headline Science

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Although many measures are in place to prevent contamination, pollutants, such as mercury and lead, can still end up in the environment. Sensing them often requires complicated processes, but what if you could detect them with the tap of a fingertip? Researchers reporting in ACS Nano have developed a self-powered nanosensor that can discover small amounts of mercury ions and immediately report the result.


Narrator: When pollutants like mercury are leaked into the environment, they require time-consuming processes to detect. But now, they can be found with just the tap of a fingertip.

Self-powered nanosensors can detect small amounts of mercury (Hg2+) in real time. Zong-Hong Lin’s team powers their sensor with a form of static electricity called triboelectricity.  The sensor keeps running while detecting dissolved mercury ions (Hg2+) at the same time. The highly-sensitive triboelectric nanosensor was mounted to a robot’s fingertip.

Just by poking a sample, the robot’s sensor detected mercury in both tap water and lake water, and foods after they’d been “spiked” with mercury ions, like this apple, A shrimp and some leafy spinach.  The researchers say that their device could be modified to remotely monitor other pollutants in the future.

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