A Sensor Array for the Ultrasensitive Discrimination of Heavy Metal Pollutants in Seawater

Document Type


Publication Date



Polymer Science and Engineering


Metal cations are potent environmental pollutants that negatively impact human health and the environment. Despite advancements in sensor design, the simultaneous detection and discrimination of multiple heavy metals at sub-nanomolar concentrations in complex analytical matrices remain a major technological challenge. Here, the design, synthesis, and analytical performance of three highly emissive conjugated polyelectrolytes (CPEs) functionalized with strong iminodiacetate and iminodipropionate metal chelates that operate in challenging environmental samples such as seawater are demonstrated. When coupled with array-based sensing methods, these polymeric sensors discriminate among nine divalent metal cations (CuII, CoII, NiII, MnII, FeII, ZnII, CdII, HgII, and PbII). The unusually high and robust luminescence of these CPEs enables unprecedented sensitivity at picomolar concentrations in water. Unlike previous array-based sensors for heavy metals using CPEs, the incorporation of distinct π-spacer units within the polymer backbone affords more pronounced differences in each polymer's spectroscopic behavior upon interaction with each metal, ultimately producing better analytical information and improved differentiation. To demonstrate the environmental and biological utility, a simple two-component sensing array is showcased that can differentiate nine metal cation species down to 500 × 10−12 m in aqueous media and to 100 × 10−9 m in seawater samples collected from the Gulf of Mexico.

Publication Title

Advanced Functional Materials

Find in your library