Our Research Multiplexed motion-amplified microbead sensors for rapid measurement and monitoring of trace contaminants in water

Principal Investigator

Rohit Karnik

  • Tata Professor
  • J-WAFS associate director
  • Department of Mechanical Engineering

Rohit Karnik is a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT where he leads the Microfluidics and Nanofluidics Research Group. His research focuses on the physics of micro- and nanofluidic flows and the design of micro- and nanofluidic systems for applications in water, healthcare, energy, and the environment. 

Karnik also serves as associate director for J-WAFS, where he helps shape J-WAFS’ research agenda and priorities, and supports proposal review processes, project oversight, and interactions with corporate partners.  


Can we measure multiple trace and emerging contaminants in water with high sensitivity in a low-cost, integrated field-portable device?

Research Strategy

  • Develop bead-based assays for a few representative trace contaminants ranging from heavy metals to pesticides
  • Implement assays in standalone point-of-use device and demonstrate sample-to-answer analysis in spiked natural water samples
  • Examine device shelf-life and longevity towards establishing life-time limits and initial feasibility for continuous monitoring of contaminants in piped or surface water systems

Project description

Water pollution is a global health crisis that causes over a million deaths every year. Conventional methods for monitoring water quality, such as field test kits and high-end instruments, are limited in their ability to detect trace contaminants, understand contamination events, and respond to these events in real-time. This is because current, conventional methods are often low sensitivity, expensive, and difficult to deploy in the field.

Karnik and his team plan to develop bead-based assays for monitoring a few representative trace and emerging contaminants in water, ranging from heavy metals to pesticides. Their system will work by observing the motion of micron-sized beads using low-powered microscopy in a simple, self-contained, and portable format. This will make the test suitable for field studies and continuous monitoring. Inspired by the efficacy of bead-based sensors in healthcare, this approach has the potential to increase the ease and reach of detecting and quantifying trace contaminants in water for personal to industrial scale applications.

Additional Details

Impact Areas

  • Water
  • Food

Research Themes

  • Sensors & Monitoring

Year Funded

  • 2023

Grant Type

  • Seed Grant


  • Ongoing