There is a growing interest in using fluorescence to monitor water quality through real-time detection of impurities in water. Previous studies have shown portable fluorescence sensors as the potential to provide instantaneous measurements of fluorescent organic compounds that present in both chemical and biological pollutants.

Now, scientists from the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus are shining a beam of fluorescence into potentially contaminated water samples that might hold the key to real-time detection of impurities in water, such as hydrocarbons and pesticides.

 Scientists Use Fluorescence to Monitor Water Quality by Detecting Hydrocarbons and Pesticides in Real-time
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Fluorescence in ultraviolet light of 0.0001% aqueous solutions: blue - quinine, green - fluorescein, yellow - rhodamine-6G. The photo was taken in the chemical laboratory of the University of Łódź (Łódź, Poland).

Using Fluorescence in Monitoring Water Quality

In the UBCO study, titled "Comparison of dimensionality reduction techniques for cross-source transfer of fluorescence contaminant detection models," published in the journal Chemosphere, fluorescence spectroscopy has shown promise as a tool for monitoring water quality because of its real-time capabilities of detecting several compounds in the water.

Previous work on fluorescence spectroscopy has detected and quantify low levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and pesticides. The beam of light shone into the water excites the electrons in the molecules of these compounds, which causes them to light up.

Science Daily reported that the characteristics of the emitted light resemble the fingerprint that can be useful in identifying certain water pollutants. Nicolas Peleato, an assistant professor at UBCO's School of Engineering, explains that the challenge of using fluorescence is that it is typically source-specific in which scientists have to calibrate it based on a particular water source and anticipate the presence of contaminants that they are looking for.

To do their experiment, the team had to develop a data processing technique that expands the effectiveness of the fluorescence approach from one water source to another water source.

That reduces the guesswork at the beginning of the process since calibrating for each water source is crucial for accurately detecting impurities in the water, as Peleato pointed out.

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Significance of Fluorescence Approach in Detecting Impurities in Water

According to the UBC Okanagan News, machine learning algorithms helped the team create an approach that addresses the source-specific models by identifying their similar characteristics.

But Ziyu Li, a graduate student of Peleato, said that this solution is not a one-size-fits-all method, although it is close to that. Fluorescence detection becomes a viable option for instantaneous and accurate detection of compounds like hydrocarbons and pesticides by establishing a process that identifies similar patterns between potentially contaminated water sources.

The testing process involves looking into the unique shapes of fluorescence signals, which indicate impurities and help the team distinguish these pollutants from other compounds.

Water sources contaminated by hydrocarbons are known to be carcinogenic and toxic to both plants and animals. The team is now turning their attention to monitoring chemicals in oil sand tailings that could adversely affect 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," Peleato said in the news release.

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