The hand-held device is easy to use and portable. It can be used for immediate characterization of soil and groundwater samples, lowering costs and increasing safety for workers.


Track Code 2013-007

Short Description

A hand-held device that is comprised of a cone penetrometer fitted with an electronic tongue developed for on-site qualitative and quantitative detection of heavy metals in soil and groundwater.


geotechnical, environmental, detection, on-site, in situ, soil, groundwater, heavy metal, ion, electro-active, qualitative, quantitative, contamination

Posted Date

Jan 27, 2016 2:29 PM


Heavy metal contamination of soil and groundwater, such as lead, mercury, and cadmium, has become a major concern as the severe toxicology risks for humans and other living species become apparent. Existing soil and subsurface characterization techniques, such as atomic absorption spectroscopy (AAS) and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICPMS), require expensive equipment and highly trained personal to carry out. Moreover, the instrumentation for these techniques is non-portable and samples have to be sent to a lab for time-consuming off-site analysis, limiting their usage for on-site detection. An inexpensive, efficient, and portable technique to detect and analyze heavy metal contamination on-site is needed.


UMass Lowell researchers have developed an in situ technique for on-site detection and analysis of soil and subsurface samples utilizing a hand-held cone penetrometer fitted with an electronic tongue (ET). The ET, which mimics the human gustatory system, is composed of electrodes that produce characteristic responses to metal ions and offers both qualitative and quantitative methods for detecting metal contaminates in soil or groundwater. The voltammetric sensor array on the ET targets the ion concentration while simultaneously identifying the specific metal ions present.

A prototype of the ET design has been developed to evaluate its performance for detecting heavy metal ions in solution. Differential pulse and square wave voltammetry coupled with the pre-concentration step of anodic stripping voltammetry were investigated to achieve the selectivity and sensitivity required for heavy metal detection.

Competitive Advantages  

On-site detection allows for immediate characterization of soil and groundwater samples, lowering costs and increasing safety for workers.
Hand-held device is easy to use and portable.
Voltammetry approach allows for qualitative and quantitative analysis of heavy metal contaminates.


A tool for geotechnical and environmental on-site detection of trace concentrations of electro-active compounds, such as metal contaminates in soil and groundwater.

Market Potential  

The need for a portable and efficient heavy metal detection technology has grown substantially due to the corrosion of older piping systems composed of lead and other metals contaminating water supplies. A report form “Markets and Markets” projects the environmental testing market to reach over $9.5 billion by 2019.


Kurup, P.U.; Robertson, S.; Cho, J.H.; Nagarajan, R. “Laboratory Calibration of a Hybrid Electronic Tongue for the Cone Penetrometer,” in Proc. Of International Symposium on Cone Penetration Testing (CPT), 2014.
News on UML website “Device Will Detect Toxic Heavy Metals in the Environment”.                                                                                     
Robertson, S.; Ponrathnam, T.; Cho, J.; Nagarajan, R.; Kurup, P.U. “Voltammetric Detection of Cadmium in Groundwater,” in Proc. Of GeoCongress, 2012.  

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