Real-time detection of copper contaminants in environmental water using porous silicon Fabry–Pérot interferometers†
Water sources are vulnerable to intentional and inadvertent human pollution with thousands of synthetic and geogenic trace contaminants, posing long-term effects on the aquatic ecosystem and human health. Thus, early and rapid detection of water pollutants followed by corrective and preventive actions can lead to the reduction of the overall polluting impact to safeguard public health. This study presents a generic sensing assay for the label-free detection of copper contaminants in environmental water samples using multilayered polyethylenimine (PEI) functionalized porous silicon Fabry–Pérot interferometers. The selective chelating activity of PEI thin-films was monitored in real-time by reflective interferometric Fourier transform spectroscopy (RIFTS) while assessing the improved optical responses. The optimized scaffold of two sequential PEI layers depicted a linear working range between 0.2 and 2 ppm while presenting a detection limit of 0.053 ppm (53 ppb). The specificity of the developed platform was cross-validated against various metallic pollutants and cations commonly found in water bodies (i.e., Cd2+, Pb2+, Cr3+, Fe3+, Mg2+, Ca2+, Zn2+, K+ and Al3+). Finally, as a proof of concept, the analytical performance of the porous interferometers for real-life scenarios was demonstrated in three water samples (tap, ground and irrigation), presenting sufficient adaptability to complex matrix analysis with recovery values of 85–106%. Overall, the developed sensing concept offers an efficient, rapid and label-free methodology that can be potentially adopted for routine on-site detection using a simple and portable device.