The ecoETS team, which has reached the finals of the SPbU Start-up – 2021 contest, is developing a means of analysing complex chemical mixtures based on artificial intelligence and electric tongue technology, involving systems of electrochemical sensors.  The main advantages of this innovative research method are low cost and easy interpretation of results. 

process sozdaniya sensorov

The process of generating sensors at the stage of magnetron sputtering of a current-carrying layer

The classical laboratory methods for investigating chemical impurities, process emissions and waste are chromatographic, spectral and electrochemical analyses.  They are carried out by highly qualified specialists using expensive equipment, which makes the cost of studying mixtures quite high.  According to the estimates of the ecoETS team, it can come to as much as 100,000 roubles. 

To reduce the cost of this procedure, the members of the ecoETS team have proposed an alternative method based on the technology of the ‘electric tongue’, which is an array of electrochemical sensors, each of which has a selective response to a particular group of substances.  What is more, the zones of electrical activity of these substances on the sensors within the array overlap, which makes it possible to correlate the data from different sensors, significantly increasing the reliability of the analysis. 

This project is an attempt to address the high cost of industrial certification services.                                                                                                                                  

Aleksei Petrov, a third-year bachelor’s student in Chemistry, Physics and Material Mechanics

‘We have found that, to a great extent, this has to do with the high cost of carrying out an analysis of multi-component media, which takes up a lot of instrument time and also the working time of a laboratory technician,’ notes team captain Aleksei Petrov, who is in the third year of a bachelor’s programme in Chemistry, Physics and Material Mechanics.  ‘By offering an electrochemical multisensory system as an alternative to the traditional methods of analysis, we plan to substantially reduce the costs incurred by a laboratory and, as a result, to potentially bring down the cost of the services involved in an environmental certification for businesses. 

According to our calculations, the equipment alone will cost up to eight times less.’

The name of the team – ecoETS – captures the essence of their method – application of the ‘electric tongue system’ (ETS) to the needs of environmental certification (eco).  (This procedure can be referred to as ‘ecological’ certification, which explains their choice of ‘eco’, but it is much more commonly known as ‘environmental’ certification. – translator’s note.)  According to Mr Petrov, the idea of starting up the project arose after the members of the team read a scholarly paper about systems of this type.  They found the possibilities of the electr

ic tongue so intriguing that they began to think about where they could best be put to use.  Stanislav Beresten, a first-year master’s student in Ecology, Biodiversity and Nature Protection, is the ecoETS team member responsible for market analysis, and he proposed that they apply them to something that was close to his heart – environmental certification.

The team was formed on the basis of which competencies were needed for different aspects of the project.  Since the main thrust was to develop equipment for environmental certification, they needed an environmental expert, and Tatiana Grigoreva, who is now in the fourth year of a bachelor’s programme in Biology, assumed this position.  They also needed a specialist in machine learning and information technology, and that role fell to Olga Galiagina, a second-year undergraduate student in Fundamental Informatics and Information Technology.  Likewise, they needed an expert in the synthesis of complex electrode materials, and Viktoriia Zheltova, in her last year of a bachelor’s programme in Chemistry, filled that niche.

The ‘SPbU Start-up’ contest is being held at the University for the sixth time. Teams that have presented best knowledge-intensive and commercially viable business models will receive monetary prizes from the Endowment Fund of St Petersburg University: 300,000 roubles for the first, 200,000 for the second, and 100,000 for the third place. Additionally, the two winning teams may be offered to establish a small innovative enterprise with the participation of St Petersburg

University. Grants for their projects’ development will amount to 1,000,000 and 700,000 roubles for the first and second places respectively. For detailed information about the ‘SPbU Start-up – 2021’ student contest please visit the website of the Endowment Fund of St Petersburg University.

Team captain Aleksei Petrov is in charge of theoretical description, numerical modelling and electrochemical testing of the sensors.  He is also responsible for designing a switch that will provide a link between the sensors and the computer, along with the software.  Artificial intelligence, which is part of the software, will be used to lighten the load of the equipment operator during data processing.  Ultimately, the participants in the project plan to devise a system that will, with a certain set of sensors, yield readings of the concentrations of those elements for which that set is intended. 

‘Our research supervisor, Andrei Arbenin, who is a senior research associate at the

St Petersburg University Laboratory for Mechanics of Advanced Bulk Nanomaterials for Innovative Engineering Applications, gives us his fullest support, both materially, by providing access to the resources of the laboratory, and intellectually, by offering us valuable advice.  And one more thing,’ Mr Petrov added, ‘it just so happens that at the moment the laboratory is involved in research on electrochemical sensors, on which our multisensory system is based, and that is a very lucky coincidence.’ 

The team had planned to ready the sensors and the switch for the finals of SPbU Start-up – 2021, but their work on the sensors has been seriously stalled since they discovered discrepancies between the theoretical and the experimental data.  Given that a switch is useless without sensors, all of the team’s efforts have been dedicated to producing them. 

At the moment, we have ready samples of test sensors, so we can check the performance of the system, and we also have a few sensors based on modified electrodes.                                                                                                                       

Aleksei Petrov, a third-year bachelor’s student in Chemistry, Physics and Material Mechanics

‘Once we have a full set of working sensors, coming up with a switch won’t be a big deal.  It will be much more difficult to develop the software, but that too is entirely feasible,’ Mr Petrov exuded confidence. 

According to him, the contest has helped the team by giving them an opportunity to test out the soundness of their idea and also, in a short time, to solve many problems that had been standing in their way.  In addition, the members of the ecoETS team attended a start-up school, which greatly facilitated their efforts to devise a business plan.