Science News

Liquid fingerprinting instantly identifies unknown liquids, scientists say

A technique for quickly, easily testing any liquid may soon be available for commercial use, according to Harvard University scientists who developed it.

Watermark Ink could be used to identify chemical spills, fuel grade of gasoline or other chemicals with ease similar to litmus paper, say scientists who have raised funding for a private company, Validere, to start developing a product for sale.

“The goal is to remove the element of human error from the identification and categorization of unknown liquids,” Ian Burgess, who co-invented W-INK as a doctoral student Harvard and is now CEO and CTO of Validere, said in a press release.

According to a paper, published in the journal Scientific Reports, a test strip takes a sample of a liquid and, when inserted into the device, which does not require a power source, interactions between the chemicals and test strip cause color changes or markers to appear.

The next step for development, the scientists say, is to create an interface device that translates the visual test results into a recommendation for handling liquids, as well as disposable strips and customizable field test kits for specific uses.

The palm-sized device has already drawn interest from the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research and U.S. Department of Transportation, both of which say it could have important applications in both private industry and myriad government functions.

“Many people focus on making hardware smaller, but miniaturization often turns out to be the easy part,” Burgess said. “What’s difficult, and what our solution does, is to simplify the readouts to a level that you don’t need a technician to interpret the results. Anyone in the field can immediately know, on the spot, how to respond to a sampled liquid.”