This PFI: AIR Research Alliance project focuses on the translation and transfer of a low-cost and real-time heavy metal ion detection technology, derived from Water Equipment and Policy (WEP) I/UCRC expertise and discoveries in graphene-based water sensing. The technology has the following market-valued features: rapid response and high sensitivity to heavy metal ions in water, and capable of inline continuous detection to provide early-warning for heavy metal contamination in public and private water supplies. When compared to the leading competing methods, spectroscopic and electrochemical, in this market space, these features provide the following advantages: in-situ and real-time detection (an unmet need), low cost, and miniaturization. The real-time electronic heavy metal ion detection technology is important because it enables the continuous water quality monitoring for heavy metal ion contamination, mitigates health risks, and ensures a clean and safe water supply. Students and postdoctoral fellows will gain entrepreneurial and technology translation experience through hands-on training on the sensor prototyping innovation platform and a number of existing entrepreneurship resources such as Student Startup Challenge and Design Entrepreneur Showcase programs.

This project addresses the following technology gaps as it translates from research discovery toward commercial application. There is a strong need for accurate and accessible detection technologies to ensure continuous water quality control and early warning capabilities to avoid public safety catastrophes. Current detection methods for aqueous heavy metal ions are often too expensive or unsuitable for in-situ and real-time detection. The proposed novel, inline micro-sized electronic sensor outperforms existing water testing methods and is simple to implement, eliminating many of the disadvantages associated with current practices. The project aims to demonstrate fully-functioning prototypes of water meters, water purifiers, and handheld devices integrated with real-time sensors for heavy metal ions in water using a graphene-based platform.

The innovation ecosystem that will be created includes A. O. Smith, Badger Meter, and NanoAffix Science LLC. These research partners and third-party investors will help integrate the new sensor into their existing products (water purifiers and water meters) and new handheld devices, and explore sensor manufacturing issues to bring the technology to the market place. The potential economic impact is expected to be more commercial competitiveness, expanded market space, increased market share, more profits for partner companies, new job creation, and enhanced economic growth in the next three to five years.

Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Wisconsin Milwaukee
United States
Zip Code