Sensors make chemistry visible/measurable and are essential tools to understand biological processes. We want to understand how the chemical environment effects biological processes and organisms and, in turn, how the chemical environment is effected by the biology.
For this purpose, we need the right tools, and this is why our laboratory works on developing such tools, so-called sensors.
As humans we use our senses to comprehend our environment and to interact with it. While we can see or smell certain things, most of the chemicals surrounding us are not accessible to our senses. This is where chemical sensors come in handy. The sensors we develop can detect and measure important chemicals in the environment - it can be potentially toxic substances, greenhouse gasses and many more. The information our sensors can deliver is essential to control industrial processes or monitor sensitive environments.
Sensors are specialized, often miniaturised, instruments that enable the analysis of a certain substance in real-time. We aim to make sensors that can help us better understand the environment we live in. We aim to make them as reliable, stable and user-friendly as possible. We work at the interface between chemistry, biology and engineering.
We work on both optical and electrochemical sensors and in this way enable the measurement of a large variety of chemical parameters. Our sensor portfolio includes among other sensors for oxygen, pH, hydrogen sulphide, nitrous oxide, ammonia, carbon dioxide and nitrate. Our developments enable measuring those parameters in 1D but for some chemical species also imaging in 2D or 3D.
Our focus is always on developing sensors that are suitable for the application at hand. We have been able to adopt our sensors to be used from single-cell level up to organism level. With our sensors it is possible to measure both in the field as well as in controlled laboratory environments.
Ammonia, NH3, is a very important molecule with the natural nitrogen cycle and essential for most life on this planet. Unfortunately ammonia is kind of a double-edged sword; essential nutrient on the one hand and toxic at the other. As so often, the concentration determines if positive or negative aspects are predominant.
Within the project AmmoniSens that is funded by the Sapere Aude program of the Independent Research Fund Denmark, we aim at developing sensors that can help us detect ammonia in the environment and quantify it at high spatial and temporal resolution.
We develop novel optical material that change their luminescence properties as a function of the ammonia concentration. Using our first generation of sensors we were already able to quantitatively visualize the emission of NH3 from soil upon manure application (1). In the future, we aim to further develop those sensors to also detect trace amounts of dissolved NH3 within aquatic environments, where NH3 is toxic to aquatic life even at such low concentrations.