Vytautas Žutautas, a chemist at the Department of Nanoengineering of FTMC, has become a PhD. His thesis is entitled "Applications of Conductive Polymers in Sensors" (academic supervisors: Dr. Inga Morkvėnaitė-Vilkončienė and Dr. Rasa Pauliukaitė).
Congratulations to our colleague and best of luck with the continuation of the important work you have started!
Thinner and more flexible
The researcher's thesis work consisted of two main tasks. First, Vytautas developed and tested a technology that will be useful in the food industry: a laser-induced graphene electrode (electrical conductor) for the next-generation of pH sensors. This electrode's characteristics make it much more adaptable.
"In industry, most pH sensors are glass, whereas ours is flat and flexible. It is a few millimetres thick and can be integrated into any container or device with very small gaps. Ordinary sensors would not fit into them. The 'sensitive' part of our sensor, which measures pH, could be on the outside, while the rest, with all the electronics, could be 'hidden' inside the container or device," said Žutautas. Read more about it here
According to the chemist, the device he has developed is being tested on a conveyor belt in the Department of Laser Technologies of FTMC. Although many more experiments are still to be carried out, the results so far show good news - the new electrode has a higher sensitivity than the glass electrode.
Searching for residual poison
The next challenge was to develop a next-generation sensor for atrazine, a frequently used herbicide in agriculture. The European Union has already banned this hazardous chemical, but it is still unclear how much of it remains in the soil, water or plants. Sensors are being used to find out, but they are far from perfect, says Vytautas:
"The devices are stationary, difficult to use and require a separate laboratory. Using them is a long and complex process and requires highly skilled professionals. So the electrochemical sensors we have developed would be much simpler, faster, and suitable for using in a field.
It would be good to test such a sensor in soil, in water and even, for example, in customs, when checking for atrazine in imported foodstuffs."
The scientist adds that the electrodes of some sensors are made of poisonous or naturally non-degradable materials, so in order to test his sensor in soil, a new solution had to be found.
"The aim is to produce a sensor that is made of vitamins and amino acids. These substances would not harm the environment, even if they were released into it.
We have succeeded in creating a copolymer material that is sensitive to atrazine. Most scientific papers report that the maximum sensitivity of such sensors achieved by other colleagues is between 1.0 and 122 μA/μM-1 cm-2. In our laboratory conditions, it is around 200. So we have developed a sensor that is almost twice as sensitive. Of course, there are a few technical problems remaining, but I think these will be solved in time," says the new PhD.