AUS Researchers Develop Luminescent Sensors for Detecting Toxic Phosphorus Compounds

A high-tech research laboratory with scientists working on luminescent sensors. The scene includes advanced lab equipment, glowing sensors changing co

A research team at American University of Sharjah (AUS) has pioneered the development of two luminescent sensors capable of detecting minute quantities of phosphorus-containing toxic compounds, such as pesticides and Chemical Warfare Agents (CWA).

These innovative sensors have broad applications, including military and defense for CWA detection, environmental monitoring for pesticide contamination in agriculture, industrial settings for toxic chemical monitoring, emergency response to chemical spills, public safety, research and development, and more.

The AUS Technology Transfer Office has secured a provisional patent for this technology with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Supported by an AUS Faculty Research Grant, Dr. Imad Abu-Yousef and Dr. Sofian Kanan, both professors in the Department of Biology, Chemistry, and Environmental Science, are currently developing a sensor prototype.

“These sensors are highly sensitive and selective, capable of detecting even trace amounts of these compounds,” explained Dr. Kanan, the project lead. “The luminescent sensors change color upon contact with these toxic compounds within just 30 seconds, allowing for real-time detection. Additionally, they interact with these compounds, potentially neutralizing some of their toxic effects, making them useful for both detection and protection.”

Unlike traditional sensors that rely on semiconducting metal oxides like tin and zinc, these luminescent sensors operate at room temperature, eliminating the need for high-temperature conditions and vacuum systems.

The sensors are particularly sensitive and selective to sarin simulants (chemical compounds that mimic the properties of the nerve agent sarin), even in the presence of water and other interfering substances. They are stable and easy to manufacture in large quantities, offering a more efficient method for detecting CWAs.

“This research was conducted over 10 months in the research facilities of the Department of Biology, Chemistry, and Environmental Sciences,” said Dr. Kanan. “It involved planning synthesis strategies, characterizing the synthesized sensors, and real testing with a CWA simulant to optimize the sensors’ sensitivity and selectivity. After optimizing all conditions and synthetic protocols, the materials can now be prepared within one week in our laboratories.”

The development of these sensors marks a significant advancement in the detection and neutralization of hazardous phosphorus-containing compounds, with the potential to enhance safety and protection across multiple sectors.

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