Knowing what is in our water for consumption and knowing what are we disposing of in our waters, has never been more important than the current century – the dawn of new age chemicals. This ‘knowing’ is possible by ‘sensing’ our water, using sensor technologies that empower our senses to analyse our samples.

A versatile and dynamic sensor will revolutionize the water sector. Pertinent to this, a one-day interactive session on sensors was conducted at the International Center for Clean Water (ICCW, an IITM initiative), on December 10, 2019, where an erudite bunch of scientists passionate about diverse sensors gathered; the words‘ selectivity, selectivity, and selectivity,’ throbbed the talks with a purpose!

Three interesting sessions on materials, analytical and devices were put in structure. A detailed list of the speakers can be found here.

The first session was chaired by Professor Soumyo Mukherjee, IITB. Professor T. Pradeep initiated his exuberant talk, emphasizing on the greater challenges in the sensors field, creating possibilities for jobs. The work from his team has translated into installations: addressing various water-related contamination problems and delivering solutions across the country.

Professor Graham Cooks, the Henry Bohn Hass Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Purdue University, a pioneer in the field of mass spectrometry (MS) delivered his talk next. He has contributed principles and novel instrumentation to the subject of tandem mass spectrometry and helped initiate desorption ionization methods. He shared his science at the meet. Professor Cooks also wished ICCW the best, hoping for science development at ICCW to outpace its challenges and hurdles.

Professor Raja Shunmugam, Dr. M. Venkataramanan, Dr. Sukhendu Mandal and Dr. Santanu Talukder followed next to deliver their talks; they presented different materials and techniques for detection and sensing.

The next session, chaired by Professor Graham Cooks, was charged with Professor Thomas Thundat’s talk focusing on selectivity in sensing. Professor Thundat is the Empire Innovation Professor, at the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, University of Buffalo. He challenged the audience with a pertinent question, “what is it that we should bring into the sensing standard?”

Professor Balaji Srinivasan, Professor Balaraman Ravindran, Dr. Manu Jaiswal, Professor Krishnan Balasubramanian, Dr. Prabhu Rajagopal and Dr. Santanu Kumar Pal, discussed the diverse methods of analytical sensing.

The post-lunch session on devices was chaired by Professor Thomas Thundat. Dr. Abdullah Alodhayb and Dr. Hamad Albrithen, from King Abdullah Institute for Nanotechnology (KAIN), King Saud University, introduced their work, state-of-the-art laboratories, funding possibilities, and shared their enthusiasm for collaborations. Professor Soumyo Mukherji showed his team’s one of its kind – optical sensors based on the evanescent waves – for water quality measurements. Professor Boby George, Dr. C. Subramaniam, Dr. Nitin S. Kale, Dr. Dipti Gupta, and Dr. Kamalesh Chaudhary presented their innovative devices for sensing variables ranging from bacteria, non-intrusive electrical parameters, toxic ions such as fluorides to explosives.

Professor T. Pradeep
Professor Graham Cooks
Professor Thomas Thundat
“Drinking water is cleaned up using nanotechnology. We believe the problem is solved. Problem is to detect if that actually happened. Allow suitable length of time, measurements and analysis will be much more reliable…”

Observed Professor Graham Cooks, while pointers on the selectivity of the sensors were the highlight of the meet,

Professor T. Pradeep with Professor Graham Cooks
A few thoughts that arose from the discussion post-session, are:
  • For an idea to be shaped into a product, the right platform is required. At ICCW, ideas can be transformed into products seamlessly under one roof
  • From the right science, the right product should hit the right market; both the market and the product should drive each other for a successful venture
  • ‘An attitude of my soil, my water to pollute,’ should change to see pollutant-free water even 5 km down the stream or even in groundwater
  • Sadly, no place, except the Gangotri, is unpolluted in India. Sensors can help change into a clean India
  • Can a sensor detect the quality of water in a glass or a bottle, in a non-contact, non-intrusive way? Do we have such mature technologies in the toolbox of our sensor science and integrated knowledge to be discovered and implemented?
  • Sensors to be designed around the reverse osmosis (RO) reject water issue, that is a burning debate around water and water purification systems post the NGT ban around the 500 ppm threshold
  • Mapping 19100 pin codes are feasible if the right sensors, to detect the diverse analytes, are developed
  • Continuous monitoring for field-level IOT-based sensing is possible
  • Collate, correspond, and collaborate, with the right people, motivated to turn an idea into a start-up
  • Markers for pollutants in the water are specific to the polluting industry
  • ICCW offers a platform for students, summer interns, research fellows to train in a specific theme, follow a research problem to the light of the day
For scientists working on sensors, detection may not be as much of a goal as is the selectivity of the sensor technology. The cry for ‘selectivity, selectivity and selectivity’ could not have emphasized it any further!