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Friday, July 7, 2000

Lab plans faster
pesticide testing

By Anthony Sommer
Kauai correspondent


LIHUE -- Trex Enterprises, a high-tech laboratory with facilities on Kauai and Maui, has been awarded a $537,000 federal contract to develop a portable field monitor that can detect minute quantities of pesticides in water.

All current testing for pesticides in the ocean, streams and drinking water supplies requires sending water samples for a laboratory analysis. Trex plans to develop a device that would allow instant analysis in the field by optical scans of the molecules on a porous silicon chip.

Its detection abilities can be expanded to many substances other than pesticides, including chemical and biological weapons. That's why it's being funded by the National Defense Center of Excellence for Research in Ocean Sciences, a state agency that is federally funded.

It can detect and trace pollution on a coral reef or in an underground water supply.

"There's nothing like this available now," said Bill Friedl, head of the CEROS Project Office in Kailua-Kona. "Porous sensors are a very hot item."

The sensor, if it eventually goes into production, will be the first follow-on product for Kauai's Trex lab, which opened last year and is moving toward producing protective coatings for lenses for everything from optical tracking equipment used at the Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai to lasers.

Trex has received considerable attention for its policy of seeking out the best young scientists from Hawaii who went to school on the mainland and believed they could never come home because there were no job opportunities.

The new project was put together by Trex's marketing manager Nani Marston and Keiki-Pua Dancil, a 26-year-old Maui native with a doctorate in chemistry from the University of California at San Diego.

The technology that is being used is a process Dancil helped develop while a graduate student and she is one of the patent owners.

A group of pesticide chemicals called organophosphates is the first target for the sensor. There are more than 25,000 variations of the chemicals and they are used both as pesticides and as military nerve agents.

Currently there is no means of testing for the chemicals in the field.

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