Project Period

October 2008-September 2014

Level of Access

Open-Access Report

Grant Number


Submission Date



Iron and Copper serve as key co-constituents for numerous enzymes in a wide range of biological systems, and their elevated or impoverished levels in aqueous systems have dramatic consequences at organismal, ecosystem, and human health scales. Over the last decade these effects have increasingly been recognized to be important in ocean systems. Identifying sites and times where these metals cause negative environmental outcomes is greatly hampered by their comparatively sparse datasets. This problem is a direct consequence of the analytical challenge of obtaining accurate Fe and Cu determinations in saline waters at very low (trace) concentrations, and the limitations of ship-dependent sampling regimes.

The PI's request funding to build on research and technology advances in the Tripp, Wells and King laboratories to develop active nanostructures that can serve as platforms amenable for detection of a wide range of environmentally important dissolved metals in seawater. Preliminary work has validated a biologically-inspired sensor platform in the subarctic N. Pacific, providing the first demonstration of dissolved Fe measurements at very low (<50 pM) concentrations in oceanic waters by a solid state sensor. The proposed work will 1) optimize this prototype sensor by tuning the active nanostructures to measure dissolved Fe and Cu, and 2) develop a detection device that migrates the current ship-board method to operate on rosette profiling platforms as well as on moorings and autonomous vehicles.

Broader Impacts:

This project has the potential to further develop a sensor that will provide unique information about the chemical speciation of the biologically important metals Fe and Cu. The work proposed here fills an important need for high spatial and temporal resolution data of these metals identified as priority by researchers in marine chemistry and marine biogeochemistry. This interdisciplinary approach has the potential to fill an analytical void for data that continues to stymie efforts to understand how and Cu and more specifically Fe availability in the oceans modulates the cycling of carbon and nitrogen in the marine environment. The proposal is well balanced in its goal of marrying nanotechnology with IR spectroscopy to address a analytical void while providing specific support for the training of students at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The PIs plan to develop minority student involvement in their research. This will have the most important impact, since bringing smart students into our field and stimulating young students to consider careers in science is essential for the continued growth of our national science capabilities.