Onsite microplastic detection kit developed
South Korean scientists have developed what they claim to be the world’s first technology to rapidly and highly sensitively detect microplastics (MPs) in the field, which are well known to cause human and genetic toxicity through environmental pollution and the food chain. When filtered through a syringe filter-type microplastic detection kit, the type, number and distribution of microplastics can be identified within 20 minutes without any pre-treatment.
Existing technologies for detecting microplastics have been difficult to use in the field, as they require complex pre-treatment, high-performance equipment and analysis by skilled researchers. The new technology replaces the pre-treatment process with a filter and improves the sensitivity of the material, rather than increasing the performance of the equipment. In addition, the skilled researchers have been replaced by machine learning.
Scientists from the Korea Institute of Materials Science (KIMS), in collaboration with the KOTITI Testing & Research Institute, synthesised a plasmonic material in the form of a nanopocket that can capture microplastics on the surface of a paper filter with microscale pores and amplify the optical signal of the captured microplastics. When a sample solution containing microplastics is injected through a syringe, the Raman spectral signal of the microplastics is amplified on the nanopocket-type plasmonic material, enabling highly sensitive detection. The technology can also be used to detect microplastics at the nanometre scale.
In addition, the research team pre-trained an AI system on the unique Raman spectroscopy signals of microplastics, so that the AI can determine whether the detected signal corresponds to microplastics — even if there are interfering elements in the sample. This technology makes it possible to accurately identify microplastics even in complex environments or human samples, as well as their concentration, distribution and type.
As explained in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, the detection device has the advantage of using a portable Raman spectrometer, which increases the possibility of onsite detection. Another advantage of this technology is that the general public can easily use it when necessary, since the sensor is made as a kit.
“If this technology is commercialised, the technology for detecting MPs universally will be more easily and rapidly disseminated,” said Dr Ho Sang Jung, a senior researcher at KIMS who developed this technology.
“Based on this, KIMS will continue to spare no effort in developing material technologies for the safety of the people and future generations.”
The KIMS researchers plan to collaborate with the KOTITI Testing & Research Institute to standardise microplastic detection technology in the future. Meanwhile, the team is currently conducting follow-up research to detect microplastics by size and evaluate their toxicity to the human body.
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