With boost from NSF, Chang’s clean water sensors head to industry

Woo Jin Chang

Woo Jin Chang, associate professor, mechanical engineering, was awarded $59,767 from Baker Manufacturing in Evansville, Wis. to develop and test a prototype of a heavy-metal sensor. The goal is to create a low-cost, portable, hand-held detector that could be used on-site to detect lead in water in two minutes or less.

Such sensors, Chang says, can be used by companies collecting water in the field, well owners and farmers, who could use them to monitor lead levels in field runoff.

Chang is a biosensor expert who develops and commercializes miniature, electrochemical sensors that instantly detect low levels of contaminants in drinking water, ground water and surface water. These low-cost detectors use a single drop of water to detect one or more heavy metals—including lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium, and copper.

Chang also develops sensors that can measure phosphate or pH levels.

NSF boosts UWM’s clean water research

In 2020, Chang’s sensor research was given a significant boost from the National Science Foundation, which awarded him $50,000 to accelerate the transfer of his research to the marketplace.

The award funded the participation of Chang and his research team in the highly competitive, renowned NSF I-Corp program, which backs research that could benefit the economy and society.

The team, all from UWM’s College of Engineering & Applied Science, included: Chang, technical lead; Rathindra (“Babu”) DasGupta, senior scientist and team mentor; and Mohammad Rizwen Ur Rahman, PhD student in mechanical engineering and entrepreneurial lead.