University of Alberta researchers are tackling the problem of rural and agricultural water testing by introducing a handheld sensor that can detect E. coli in situ.

One of the largest obstacles to decisive action on water quality threats, whether E. coli or cyanobacteria, is the time it takes to verify contamination. “Samples are collected and in some cases driven to a lab that is far away, and then the processing itself often takes two days,” said Parmiss Mojir Shaibani, a post-doctoral fellow in the University of Alberta’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. “What if the water is unhealthy to drink? Over that period of time, people and animals drinking it could become sick.”

Mojir Shaibani spent much of her PhD work researching clean water testing. “Starting this business isn’t just about making money. We want to make a difference in people’s lives, beginning with improving the water safety management here in Canada,” she said.

Amirreza Sohrabi and Parmiss Mojir Shaibani pose with their water testing technology. Credit: University of Alberta.

Roshan Water Solutions was launched in early 2017, with a focus on its first product, a handheld water testing sensor. The company was started by Mojir Shaibani and her husband, Amirreza Sohrabi. The company has a prototype almost completed and are ready to do market testing.

Water is fed into the portable device, and if E. coli is present, a byproduct changes the pH balance. Within one hour, the device indicates whether water samples are safe or unsafe, which is a marked improvement over the current methods for testing rural water quality, which can take up to two days.

“We haven’t reinvented the wheel here but we have combined nanotechnology with existing technology to allow the process to be even more sensitive, and to occur within one hour’s time on site,” said Mojir Shaibani. “The device is designed to be simple to use and does not require any technical training,” she added.

More information is available on the University of Alberta’s website.

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