Towards Wireless Characterization of Solvated Ions with Uncoated Resonant Sensors

Uncoated resonant sensors are presented here for wireless monitoring of solvated ions, with progress made toward monitoring nitrates in agricultural runoff. The sensor, an open-circuit Archimedean coil, is wirelessly interrogated by a portable vector network analyzer (VNA) that monitors the scattering parameter response to varying ionic concentrations. The sensor response is defined in terms of the resonant frequency and the peak-to-peak amplitude of the transmission scattering parameter profile (|S21|). Potassium chloride (KCl) solutions with concentrations in the range of 100 nM – 4.58 M were tested on nine resonators having different length and pitch sizes to study the effect of sensor geometry on its response to ion concentration. The resonant sensors demonstrated an ion-specific response, caused by the variations in the relative permittivity of the solution, which was also a function of the resonator geometry. A lumped circuit model, which fit the experimental data well, confirms signal transduction via change in solution permittivity. Also, a ternary ionic mixture (composed of potassium nitrate (KNO3), ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3), and ammonium phosphate (NH4H2PO4)) response surface was constructed by testing 21 mixture variations on three different sensor geometries and the phase and magnitude of scattering parameters were monitored. It was determined that the orthogonal responses presented by resonant sensor arrays can be used for quantifying levels of target ions in ternary mixtures. Applications of these arrays include measuring the concentration of key ions in bioreactors, human sweat, and agricultural waters. Preliminary results are shown for calibration standards and real waterway samples in Iowa, USA.