A paper-based device for ultrasensitive, colorimetric phosphate detection in seawater

Joan M. Racicot, Teresa L. Mako, Alexander Olivelli, Mindy Levine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


High concentrations of certain nutrients, including phosphate, are known to lead to undesired algal growth and low dissolved oxygen levels, creating deadly conditions for organisms in marine ecosystems. The rapid and robust detection of these nutrients using a colorimetric, paper-based system that can be applied on-site is of high interest to individuals monitoring marine environments and others affected by marine ecosystem health. Several techniques for detecting phosphate have been reported previously, yet these techniques often suffer from high detection limits, reagent instability, and the need of the user to handle toxic reagents. In order to develop improved phosphate detection methods, the commonly used molybdenum blue reagents were incorporated into a paper-based, colorimetric detection system. This system benefited from improved stabilization of the molybdenum blue reagent as well as minimal user contact with toxic reagents. The colorimetric readout from the paper-based devices was analyzed and quantified using RGB analyses (via ImageJ), and resulted in the detection of phosphate at detection limits between 1.3 and 2.8 ppm in various aqueous media, including real seawater.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2766
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2020


  • Colorimetric detection
  • Paper-based sensors
  • Phosphate detection
  • Reagent stabilization


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