The Development of Smart Sensors for Aquatic Water Quality Monitoring

  • Craig Alexander

Student thesis: Phd


The focus of this project was to investigate the use of interdigitated electrodes (IDEs) as impedimetric ion-selective chemical sensors for the determination of several important analytes found within a freshwater aquarium. The overall aim of this research was to work towards a prototype sensing device that could eventually be developed into a commercial product for sale to aquarium owners.Polyvinyl chloride and sol-gels containing commercially-available ionophores for four aquarium-significant ions (NH4+, NO2-, NO3- and pH) were prepared and investigated for use within polymeric ion-selective membranes. Three separate IDE transducers were produced using either photolithography or screen-printing microfabrication techniques. A sinusoidal voltage was applied to the IDEs and an LCR meter was used to measure changes in the conductance and capacitance of the ion-selective membrane layer deposited over the electrode digits.Each ionophore, when tested within potentiometric ion-selective electrodes (ISEs), was found to be suitable for further investigation within IDE devices. Sol-gels were investigated as a potential membrane material for a coated wire electrode; however, poor response characteristics were observed. An IDE sensor fabricated in-house using lift-off photolithography and spin-coated with a polymeric membrane was found to produce non-selective responses caused by changes in the conductivity of the test solution. IDE devices with reduced geometric parameters were purchased and coated with a selective polymeric membrane. When the membrane was spin-coated, non-selective responses were observed; therefore, drop-coating of the membrane material was investigated. This initially resulted in an unacceptably long response time; however, this effect was reduced by decreasing the membrane solution viscosity prior to drop-coating. A fully-screen printed carbon IDE device was fabricated by incorporating the ionophore into a support matrix based on a commercial dielectric paste. Matrix interferences to the sensor response were reduced by printing 'build-up' layers over the sensing area prior to the ion-selective membrane.Two novel routes for monitoring the water quality of an aquarium, using IDE sensors fabricated by either photolithography or screen-printing, have been demonstrated. Due to the commercial aspect of this project, it is important to consider the final cost of producing these sensors. Both of the techniques used to produce ion-selective sensors require further experimentation to optimise the sensor response, prior to integration within a multi-analyte sensing prototype.
Date of Award31 Dec 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorNicholas Goddard (Supervisor)


  • Chemical sensor
  • Ion-selective electrode
  • Impedance sensing
  • Water quality monitoring

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