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The detection of ionizing radiation is typically achieved by complex electronic sensors. A radiation sensor that provides continuous monitoring, low cost of manufacture, and a simple visual readout would complement existing detection technologies and offer a 'front line' of radiation detection. Here, we have developed a chemical radiation detector that transforms a biological mechanism of radiation damage into a visual colorimetric output. The sensor relies on the interaction of ionizing radiation with phosphodiester bonds, a major method of radiation-induced DNA damage in living organisms. We have developed a chemical indicator system to translate phosphate bond cleavage into a colorimetric readout consisting of pyrophosphate, a synthetic receptor ligand, and dye. This system relies on selective displacement of an indicator dye from a synthetic dizinc receptor by monophosphate. Upon cleavage of the pyrophosphate by radiation, we observe an instantaneous color change in the solution. This proof of principle system could be applied as a complimentary radiation detection technology, to provide a rapid visual readout of radiation to untrained observers. Building chemical systems to detect biological damage effects may be a general strategy for environmental sensing and monitoring a wide range of threats. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.

Original publication




Journal article


Sensors and Actuators, B: Chemical

Publication Date





818 - 821