Clarkson University Professors Awarded NSF Grant to Develop Inexpensive Sensors for Large-scale Detection of PFAS

Clarkson University Professor and Egon Matijevic Endowed Chair of Chemistry & Biomolecular Science Silvana Andreescu and Professor of Civil Engineering and Graduate School Dean Michelle Crimi have received a $250,000 National Science Foundation award for their research to develop low-cost sensors to detect PFAS in the field. 

Professor Silvana Andreescu and Professor Michelle Crimi

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are an emerging group of environmental contaminants used in many commercial products and applications that have recently been identified as posing significant threats to the environment and human health. Large-scale analysis of these compounds is currently not possible due to a lack of field-deployable techniques.

To meet this challenge, a collaborative team of sensing and analytical chemists and PFAS experts at Clarkson are developing easy-to-use, affordable sensors that can measure the broad spectrum of PFAS in the field, proving technology that can make possible rapid assessment of their distribution, potential exposure and treatment efficacy.

The technology uses programmable receptors engineered to specifically recognize and detect PFAS by low-cost spectroscopic and electrochemical techniques.

The core of the technology is an innovative nanomaterial interface that reacts with PFAS, generating concentration-dependent changes in the physicochemical properties of these materials. The research team will develop protocols and a manufacturing process to create portable sensors based on these materials and establish performance for quantitative detection of PFAS.

The team will work with Clarkson’s Center for Air and Aquatic Resources Engineering and Sciences (CAARES), a Defense Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (DoD ELAP) laboratory, for PFAS analysis to validate the novel sensing technology. Together with industry partners, the research team will then establish the performance, testing and manufacturing of the technology as a portable device for field analysis. 

Clarkson’s Shipley Center for Innovation is also part of the project, helping the team in their entrepreneurial endeavors and providing support and services for broad industry and community adoption.

“We are very excited about this project to apply our knowledge and develop technology that can help detect PFAS and provide the measurement tools necessary to better understand their overall distribution, concentration and release in the environment,” said Andreescu. “This will add sensors and in situ measurements tools to Clarkson’s expertise in PFAS.”

Andreescu says that due to the increased benefit in cost reduction and scalability, the technology will provide opportunities and affordability for industry and broader adoption by non-expert users, providing social and economic benefits in the industrial, health and environmental sectors. Additionally, it will advance the education and training of Clarkson students who will be uniquely trained to tackle the challenges of detecting PFAS and assessing contamination. 

She adds that the availability and commercialization of new easy-to-use, affordable sensors has the potential to more effectively identify exposures to emerging PFAS contaminants and could translate into improved monitoring and reduced environmental pollution and human health impact.  More details about the project can be found at

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