Although many advances have been made in science, it is still not as simple as many people imagine for scientists to monitor pollutants. The consequences from automobile exhaust, the dilution of cleaning solvents in air or the problems that occur when tankers spill gasoline, remain of concern to scientists.
"Typical concentrations of many pollutants can be small--only a few molecules of pollutants in every part per billion of air or water molecules," Mitra said. "But even at these levels, these pollutants pose a threat to human and public health."
"For example, we know that benzene, a by-product of automobile exhaust, causes cancer," Mitra said. "The organics from auto exhaust fumes also lead to smog formation in urban areas like Los Angeles. Measuring benzene and similar chemicals, though, is costly and difficult. One must have access to large instruments that cost thousands of dollars. But using the microconcentrator, this will no longer be the case."
Although the market currently features affordable miniature sensors, the technology is not there yet for the tiniest amounts of pollutants, said Mitra. "I'm talking about creating an instrument sensitive enough to measure concentrations of pollutants such as benzene, which may range in just a few parts per million or even billion."
Mitra's research interests are two-pronged. He looks for novel analytical techniques and sensors to discover low-level trace elements in air, water and soil. His current projects include developing instrumentation and methods for continuous, on-line analysis of trace levels of organic pollutants in air and water. These methods range from using gas chromatography or mass spectrometry to micro-scale, lab-on-a-chip devices.
Mitra also looks for new ways to assemble and modify carbon nanotubes to create novel and new materials to be used in applications ranging from tennis racke
Contact: Sheryl Weinstein
New Jersey Institute of Technology