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Mercury Content can now be tested using Smartphones

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Photo credit: Some rights reserved by AGrinberg via Flickr

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by AGrinberg via Flickr.

We all know how harmful mercury is for us and the environment. The most commonly known issue today about mercury is the growing concern over mercury content in tech items (fluorescent bulbs for example). However it is also feared due to fish that accumulate the element in their bodies.

Thankfully though, a new and very simple method of detecting mercury content has been recently developed, possibly enabling the average person to determine the amount of mercury in a substance, solution, or thing.

This new breakthrough has been discovered by researchers at the University of Burgos in Spain, where they have successfully developed a simple sheet that is capable of changing color when it is dipped in water containing mercury. The exact change in color is visible to the naked eye, allowing the user to determine the general quantity of mercury in water without the use of specialized equipment.

Though the sheet is in itself an already innovative invention, the special point here is that the color it takes on can simply be quantified by taking a photo of it using a smartphone. That’s right, they can simply take a digital image of the colored sheet in order for their special image treatment software to quantify or measure the mercury content.

So, the primary procedure for the examination requires the sheet be “dipped” in its color by placing it in water for at least 5 minutes. The red coloration on the sheet signals that the water has mercury in it. The deeper the sheet gets stained with that color, the higher the water’s presumed mercury content is. Afterwards, the sheet could then be photographed to produce a digital image, by which its color coordinates are analyzed by specialized software to provide additional quantifiable info about the water’s mercury content.

The sheet is made up of an organic compound called rhodamine. According to their report, this compound acts as a sensor, reacting to the mercury present in a solution or surface. The sheet that they have made is specifically designed to change color when the sample’s mercury levels goes over the allowed limits of the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency standards, which is said to be 2 parts per billion of divalent mercury.

One thing that was not mentioned in the report is the possibility of the analyzer software being natively available to be installed on mobile devices. The report suggested that the digital image file is still taken to a separate computer unit for analysis. Perhaps the development of a tablet/smartphone-based analyzer app might be another step that they might take in the future, as their “image treatment software” would surely be a convenient tool in providing more accurate information than just knowing that the sheet “turned red”.

Christian Crisostomo
About Christian Crisostomo (265 Posts)

Christian Crisostomo is just your average tech geek that loves to see man's newest and most recent technological exploits. He holds great interest in the potentials of green technology, and is enthusiastic about the continuous development of environment-friendly alternative energy.


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One Comment on “Mercury Content can now be tested using Smartphones

  1. Interesting technology, I wonder if the paper would work on human saliva to see if mercury fillings are creating measurable mercury in the mouth. Have you posted anything on the amount of mercury dental offices discharge. Do you realize a single small amalgam filling is approximately 350 mg of mercury. A compact florescent light (CFL) has 4 mg. This translates to 87.5 CFL’s to one small amalgam filling. Dentists in all but 12 states are allowed to dump tons of mercury down the drain without cause or restriction, yet businesses including dental offices are required to recycle CFL’s. Doesn’t make a lot of sense I guess. The interesting thing is the EPA has written a dental rule to require dental offices to recycle these fillings however the Obama Administration has prevented if public comment. Any ideas why?

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