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Environmental Copper Sensor Based on Polyethylenimine-Functionalized Nanoporous Anodic Alumina Interferometers

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journal contribution
posted on 22.02.2019, 00:00 by Simarpreet Kaur, Cheryl Suwen Law, Nathan Hu Williamson, Ivan Kempson, Amirali Popat, Tushar Kumeria, Abel Santos
Anthropogenic copper pollution of environmental waters from sources such as acid mine drainage, antifouling paints, and industrial waste discharge is a major threat to our environment and human health. This study presents an optical sensing system that combines self-assembled glutaraldehyde-cross-linked double-layered polyethylenimine (PEI-GA-PEI)-modified nanoporous anodic alumina (NAA) interferometers with reflectometric interference spectroscopy (RIfS) for label-free, selective monitoring of ionic copper in environmental waters. Calibration of the sensing system with analytical solutions of copper shows a linear working range between 1 and 100 mg L–1, and a low limit of detection of 0.007 ± 0.001 mg L–1 (i.e., ∼0.007 ppm). Changes in the effective optical thickness (ΔOTeff) of PEI-GA-PEI-functionalized NAA interferometers are monitored in real-time by RIfS, and correlated with the amount of ionic copper present in aqueous solutions. The system performance is validated through X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) and the spatial distribution of copper within the nanoporous films is characterized by time-of-flight-secondary ion mass spectroscopy (TOF-SIMS). The specificity and chemical selectivity of the PEI-GA-PEI-NAA sensor to Cu2+ ions is verified by screening six different metal ion solutions containing potentially interfering ions such as Al3+, Cd2+, Fe3+, Pb2+, Ni2+, and Zn2+. Finally, the performance of the PEI-GA-PEI-NAA sensor for real-life applications is demonstrated using legacy acid mine drainage liquid and tap water for qualitative and quantitative detection of copper ions. This study provides new opportunities to develop portable, cost-competitive, and ultrasensitive sensing systems for real-life environmental applications.