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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Tech Note

Air Date: Week of

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Living on Earth's Cynthia Graber reports on newly created florescent molecules that glow in the presence of metal pollution.


CURWOOD: Just ahead, a gambler's eye view of the odds of serious climate disruption. First this technology note from Cynthia Graber.

[Technology theme music]

GRABER: Heavy metals in wastewater pose a threat to human health. For instance, high levels of cadmium have been linked to digestive problems and to certain forms of cancer. And mercury can cause problems with fetal development and nervous system damage. At the moment, the only way to look for the presence of metals in water is to remove a sample and test it. That's expensive and time-consuming. And it only gives a snapshot of conditions at that moment. Now researchers from Brigham Young University have developed glowing molecules that they hope will solve the detection problem. It works like this. There are molecules that attach themselves to the electrons floating around in metal ions. Now for the glowing part. These scientists have developed another substance that they've attached to the molecules. And this substance, once bound to the metal, is what glows under ultraviolet light. The detector for zinc turns an orangey-yellow, the one for mercury glows green, and cadmium produces a bluish tint. Scientists are now working to anchor these molecules in quartz. Once they do that, they hope to be able to leave that rock in the water to be able to continuously monitor its pollution-detecting glow. That's this week's technology note, I'm Cynthia Graber.

[Technology theme music ends]

CURWOOD: And from the climate change talks in Bonn, Germany, you're listening to Living on Earth.




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