IIT-Madras develops portable device to detect water, soil quality 

The device, when ready, can be used by farmers to decide on crop cultivation, researchers say

September 22, 2023 09:06 pm | Updated 09:07 pm IST - CHENNAI


The Indian Institute of Technology - Madras (IIT-M) has developed a portable device to determine soil and water quality.  

The objective is to develop a device that a lay person can operate and detect heavy metals in soil. The research team has filed a provisional patent. 

The drinking water in an estimated 36,000 rural habitations in the country is affected by fluoride, arsenic and heavy metal contamination, according to the Union Ministry of Jal Shakti. Such contamination not only reduces agricultural yield but also affects human health adversely.

Techniques used rely heavily on sophisticated laboratories. The research team comprising Sreeram K. Kalpathi and Tiju Thomas, associate professors in the Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, are leading the project to fabricate the device.

Mr. Kalpathy said the device would give farmers the information they need to decide on the crop they could cultivate and when to make interventions. At present, tests of real soil and water samples to validate the concept was in progress, he added.  

The research now focused on achieving higher resolution detection capabilities for copper, lead and cadmium in parts per million levels, besides achieving selective detection of specific metals.

The researchers are testing the water samples collected from temple tanks in Rameswaram. “We are aiming to have the technology validated and demonstrated in field environment over the next three to five years,” he added. 

In the current stage of development, the device can detect copper, zinc and mercury. “Our technology is based on the ideas of absorbing metal ions on to thin polymer films by dipping them in the water sample to be analysed. Infrared spectroscopic signals of these films would be compared with a calibrated database to identify and estimate the presence and concentration of heavy metals.” said Mr. Thomas.

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