MEMS Chemical Sensor for In-situ Heavy Metal Detection

Technology #17891

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Professor Michael Triantafyllou
Department of Mechanical Engineering, MIT
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Nan Wang
School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, Nanyang Technology University
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Jianmin Miao
School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, Nanyang Technology University
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Jim Freedman
MIT Technology Licensing Officer - Chemicals, Instruments, Consumer Products
Patent Protection

MEMS Chemical Sensor For Heavy Metal Detection

PCT Patent Application Filed
Biosensors based on flexural mode piezo-diaphragm
3rd IEEE International Conference on Nano/Micro Engineered and Molecular Systems, 2008, Jan. 6, 2008, pp. 374-8
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Smart Materials and Structures, 22(1): 1-13, Dec. 6, 2012
High sensitivity, miniature, full 2D anemometer based on MEMS hot-film sensors
IEEE Sensors Journal, 13(5): 1914-20, Apr. 5, 2013
Fabrication of carbon nanotubes enhanced piezoelectric membrane for biosensor application
International Journal of Nanotechnology, 6(7-8): 762-71, 2013


  • Heavy metal pollution level monitoring in surface water
  • Compact MEMS chemical sensor for end-user water quality monitoring
  • Three-dimensional AUV heavy metal contaminant mapping of watersheds

Problem Addressed

Monitoring heavy metal contamination in crucial water sources is vital because heavy metals are non-biodegradable and extremely toxic. Conventional water quality monitoring procedures are time-consuming, expensive and centralized. Thus, contamination results may be inaccurate as chemical reactions can occur in transit to testing sites. In addition, boundary layer effects may distort contamination readings due to ineffective sensor designs. The invention presents a novel sensor design for in-situ heavy metal detection, while resolving boundary layer problems to achieve extremely sensitive detection rates. 


Inspired by the shark olfactory sensing system, the microfluidic channels are designed to have an enlarged effective sensing area. The sensor is miniaturized to offer improved operational benefits and designed to be biodegradable and easily manufactured. In addition, the sensor uses a more effective electrode construction and mode of ion transfer, increasing sensitivity to metal ions and resolving boundary layer detection problems. Due to its simple, compact and cost effective design, this disposable sensor is perfect for mass production.   


  • Compact, light-weight design makes sensor versatile with great commercial viability
  • Simple and low-cost fabrication using common MEMS batch fabrication techniques 
  • Novel design optimizes mass transfer rates and resolves boundary layer problem