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University of British Columbia Okanagan researchers have discovered a new way to detect impurities in water

UBCO shines light on water

University of British Columbia Okanagan researchers have discovered a new way to detect impurities in water.

By shining a beam of fluorescence light into potentially contaminated water samples, researchers say it may be the key to real-time detection of hydrocarbons and pesticides in water, and the results are said to be promising.

“When a beam of light is shone into water, it excites the electrons in molecules of certain compounds and causes them to emit light. The characteristics of the emitted light are like a fingerprint and can be used to identify certain contaminants,” explains Nicolas Peleato, an assistant professor at UBCO’s School of Engineering.

“The challenge with using this fluorescence approach is that they are typically source-specific; meaning we have to calibrate for a particular water source and anticipate what specific contaminants we want to look for,” says Peleato. “In our latest work, we have developed a data processing technique that expands the effectiveness from one water source to others.”

Using machine learning algorithms, Peleato and one of his graduate students, Ziyu Li, have built an approach that addresses the difficulty of source-specific models through mapping their similarities. “By establishing a process that identifies similar patterns between water sources, fluorescence detection becomes a viable option for real-time, accurate detection of hydrocarbons and pesticides,” explains Li.

The researchers are also focusing their attention on using this new practice to detect and track chemicals such as the major toxic contaminants in oil sand tailings ponds that may impact surface water and groundwater.

“Building a comprehensive model that seamlessly transitions from one water source to another will speed up monitoring, and has the potential to be a game changer,” says Peleato.



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