Evan Thomas

Date of Award

Summer 8-11-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Mechanical Engineering


Mechanical Engineering

Physical Description

1 online resource (x, 66 pages)


Fluorescence spectroscopy, Water quality management, Water quality -- Measurement, Fluorescence -- Measurement, Bacteria -- Measurement




Waterborne disease is a significant contributor to the global burden of disease, in particular among high-risk populations in developing nations. State-of-the-art methods for the enumeration of microbial pathogens in drinking water sources have important limitations, including high initial cost, 24-48 hour delays in results, high staffing and facility requirements, and training requirements which all become especially problematic in the developing nation context.

A number of alternative approaches to microbial water quality testing have been proposed, with the goal of decreasing the required testing time, decreasing overall costs, leveraging appropriate technology approaches, or improving sensitivity or specificity of the water quality testing method. One approach that may offer solutions to some of these limitations involves the deployment of sensor networks using fluorescent spectroscopy to detect intrinsic protein fluorescence in water samples as a proxy for microbial activity. In recent years, a number of researchers have found significant and meaningful correlations between indicator bacteria species and the protein fluorescence of drinking water samples. Additionally, advances in the semiconductor industry could be used to drive down the cost of such sensors. This technology may also be extensible to other water quality parameters, including dissolved organic matter or the presence of fluorescent pollutants.

In this thesis, a literature review describes the fundamentals of fluorescence spectroscopy, historical and recent work regarding the fluorescence of the amino acid tryptophan and associated bacterial fluorescence, possible mechanisms for this association, and potential applications of this technology for drinking water quality monitoring and waste water process control. Extensibility of the technology is also discussed.

Next, experimental methodology in reproduction of similar results is described. Samples were taken from seven (7) surface water sources and tested using membrane filtration and an off-the-shelf fluorescence spectrometer to help examine the association between the presence of indicator bacteria and the tryptophan fluorescence of the water sample. The results, showing an association of R2 = 0.560, are compared to the results of recent similar experiments.

Finally, two prototypes are described, including their design requirements and data from prototype testing. The results of the testing are briefly discussed, and next steps are outlined with the goal of developing a low-cost, in-situ microbial water quality sensor using fluorescence spectroscopy principles.

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