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St. Petersburg researchers develop chemical sensors to detect mercury in environment


It took them five years to develop the solution that will enable identifying mercury within a second.


It will take literally a second to detect whether water contains mercury using a new method developed at the Saint-Petersburg State University. Saint-Petersburg TV Channel reporter Artyom Sharipov interviewed the inventors.

Young researchers at the Saint-Petersburg State University have invented chemical sensors to detect mercury in the environment. The chemists have been working on the solution for five years. 

To see whether water contains mercury, it is added to the solution, and, if the dangerous element is there, the solution stops luminescing. The solution is iridium-based. The researchers made this element glow and then stop glowing.

Mikhail Kinzhalov, Associate Professor of the physical organic chemistry chair at the Saint-Petersburg State University, explains: ‘Mercury is practically colourless, among metal cations found in sewage, it is the only metal that does not stop glowing.’

Very important problems could be solved using this solution. The concentration of mercury in the environment, especially in rivers, is growing. The World Health Organization considers mercury one of the most dangerous pollutants. Even small amounts cause intoxication. Mercury is used in lamps and thermometers that are often disposed of negligently.

Mikhail Kinzhalov continues: ‘Mercury can be found in rivers and lakes where people go swimming. It accumulates in fish, which people can eat.’

Before the sensors can be utilized on a large scale, they should be tested. It is a question of time. Due to its low cost, the solution is very competitive.

Anzhelika Yeryomina, a student of the Saint-Petersburg State University, says: ‘The advantage of the method is its high sensitivity. It allows to detect mercury concentration in a very small amount of substance.’

Photo and video: St. Petersburg TV channel