World’s first deep sea lab on chip

New marine sensor technologies devised by scientists in the United Kingdom have been tested on a research cruise in the Canary Islands and are now ready to be developed further for commercialization.

After nine months of the four-year, two million pounds project, researchers have developed the first of a new generation of miniaturized sensors to measure marine environments and have tested them at depths of 1,600 metres. “These sensors were dropped into the water strapped to a device which measures the temperature and salinity of the oceans as a function of depth, and the sensors measured the nitrate and nitrite concentrations which are important characteristics of ocean chemistry,” said Professor Hywel Morgan, from Southampton University’s School of Electronics & Computer Science. “Phosphate, iron and manganese can also be measured with this technology,” added Prof Morgan who was aided by Dr Matt Mowlem at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, southern England. Now that the researchers have established that the sensors are capable of measuring harsh environments, they will develop them further so that they can be deployed for months at a time. The project is funded by the UK’s Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council and the Natural Environment Research Council and has two aims: to develop lab on a chip chemical and biochemical analysers to detect nutrients and pollutants at the ultra-low concentrations found in the ocean; and to develop small chips to identify individual phytoplankton in the oceans.

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