The combination of smart hydrogels and fibre optic sensor technology for analyte detection

  • Daniel Peter Harvey

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The subject of investigation of the present research is the use of smart hydrogels with fibre optic sensor technology. The aim was to develop a costeffective sensor platform for the detection of water in hydrocarbon media, and of dissolved inorganic analytes, namely potassium, calcium and aluminium. The fibre optic sensors in this work depend upon the use of hydrogels to either entrap chemotropic agents or to respond to external environmental changes, by changing their inherent properties, such as refractive index (RI). A review of current fibre optic technology for sensing outlined that the main principles utilised are either the measurement of signal loss or a change in wavelength of the light transmitted through the system. The signal loss principle relies on changing the conditions required for total internal reflection to occur. Hydrogels are cross-linked polymer networks that swell but do not dissolve in aqueous environments. Smart hydrogels are synthetic materials that exhibit additional properties to those inherent in their structure. In order to control the non-inherent properties, the hydrogels were fabricated with the addition of chemotropic agents. For the detection of water, hydrogels of low refractive index were synthesized using fluorinated monomers. Sulfonated monomers were used for their extreme hydrophilicity as a means of water sensing through an RI change. To enhance the sensing capability of the hydrogel, chemotropic agents, such as pH indicators and cobalt salts, were used. The system comprises of the smart hydrogel coated onto an exposed section of the fibre optic core, connected to the interrogation system measuring the difference in the signal. Information obtained was analysed using a purpose designed software. The developed sensor platform showed that an increase in the target species caused an increase in the signal lost from the sensor system, allowing for a detection of the target species. The system has potential applications in areas such as clinical point of care, water detection in fuels and the detection of dissolved ions in the water industry.
Date of AwardApr 2011
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorBrian Tighe (Supervisor)


  • Hydrogel
  • polymer
  • fibre optic
  • sensor
  • water detection
  • inorganic analyte detection

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