How Ontario’s researchers are transforming the water sector

Taking promising research from the lab bench to the marketplace isn’t a simple journey. But with a little help, investigators at Ontario universities are commercializing their discoveries. And the technologies they’ve developed — from high-tech sensors to artificial intelligence and nano-catalysts — promise to change water monitoring, distribution and treatment, both locally and globally.

In Part Four of this mini series, learn about how McMaster University’s Dr. Ravi Selvaganapathy, Canada Research Chair in Biomicrofluidics, is developing, fabricating and licensing a variety of sensor technologies designed to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives.

Transforming the water sector with sensor technology

According to McMaster University’s Dr. Ravi Selvaganapathy, sensors are poised for big growth within the water sector as they become cheaper and easier to deploy. “I think it will have a significant transformation,” says the professor of mechanical engineering, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Biomicrofluidics.

With his research collaborators, Selvaganapathy is paving the way. Over the years, he and his partners have developed a suite of different sensors capable of long-term deployment in the field. Most require no reagents and can be used by people without specialized training — or even operated remotely.

Some, like those he has developed with Dr. Peter Kruse, measure chlorine in drinking water, ensuring there is enough to control microbiological contamination but not enough to create dangerous byproducts. Others track nitrates, pesticides and heavy metals in surface waters. Selvaganapathy is also developing a solid state sensors to measure dissolved oxygen in wastewater, helping plants to optimize treatment while minimizing energy costs.

When their research projects lead to an interesting proof of concept, they apply for a provisional patent with the help of the McMaster Industry Liaison Office and start looking for industrial partners. OWC has also played a valuable role, connecting them with key players in the water industry and funding fabrication equipment that allows the team to create prototypes quickly and cheaply.

Today, an Israeli company has licensed their drinking water sensors, while negotiations are underway with a U.S. company that wants to incorporate them into its water filters. Next up, he’s preparing to file a patent for a phosphate sensor.

For Selvaganapathy, choosing to commercialize these discoveries reflects his role as an engineer. “Our driving purpose is to make a meaningful difference in the lives of people,” he explains.