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Chemistry professor develops sensor to quickly detect cyanide in drinking water

February 13, 2007

Idaho State University chemistry professor Dr. Jeffrey Rosentreter has helped developed a new “real-time” method of detecting cyanide in drinking water and other sources, offering numerous advantages over existing technology.Dr. Jeffrey Rosentreter

The device was designed for anti-terrorism detection of cyanide and, once it can be mass-produced, it could be put to immediate use by U.S. troops. It will also have applications to monitor cyanide produced by mining and manufacturing operations that annually produce some 1.4 million tons of cyanide worldwide. The new device has both safety and security applications.

Rosentreter, along with former ISU faculty Yegor Timofeyenko and Susan Mayo, has created an inexpensive and portable device that works on “the same principle as a quartz wristwatch.” The sensor uses a quartz crystal coated with gold. Cyanide dissolves the gold and the dissolving rate can be measured. The sensor can identify toxins in water instantaneously and targets the specific form of cyanide toxic to humans and other organisms.

“This is the culmination of five different projects to get to this point,” Rosentreter said. “I’ve been supported by the INL (Idaho National Laboratory), Lockheed Martin, the MIT Research Consortium and the Murdock Charitable Trust.”

In all, it was cost about $200,000 to develop the sensor, which can be used in inline water treatment facilities and wells. Though the prototype sensor is functional and in use locally, Rosentreter said the device is “about one step away” from being mass-produced so it can be used in a wide variety of settings. Right now, it can’t be used to monitor waters with too many types of metals because there is an interference effect. Patent applications have been submitted for the device, and a more sophisticated version of it will likely be in use within a year, the ISU professor predicts.

Since news of the device was announced last fall, Rosentreter said he’s received numerous inquiries about its uses.

“Businesses have contacted me that interested in the commercial production of the device and I’ve also been contacted by professionals hoping to use the technique,” Rosentreter said.


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