Rapid, sensitive detection of PFOA with smartphone-based flow rate analysis utilizing competitive molecular interactions during capillary action

Lane E. Breshears, Samantha Mata-Robles, Yisha Tang, Jacob C. Baker, Kelly A. Reynolds, Jeong Yeol Yoon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Perfluorinated-alkyl substances (PFAS) pose an unmet threat to the public because they are not strictly monitored and regulated. Perfluorinated-carbon alkyl chains (PFOA), a type of PFAS, at 70 fg/μL is the current health and safety recommendation. Current testing methods for PFOA and PFAS chemicals include HPLC-MS/MS and molecularly imprinted polymers, which are expensive, time-consuming, and require training. In this work, PFOA and PFOS detection was performed on a paper microfluidic chip using competitive interactions between PFOA/PFOS, cellulose fibers, and various reagents (L-lysine, casein, and albumin). Such interactions altered the surface tension at the wetting front and, subsequently, the capillary flow rate. A smartphone captured the videos of this capillary action. The samples flowed through the channel in less than 2 min. Albumin worked the best in detecting PFOA, followed by casein. The detection limit was 10 ag/μL in DI water and 1 fg/μL in effluent (processed) wastewater. Specificity to other non-fluorocarbon surfactants was also tested, using anionic sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS), non-ionic Tween 20, and cationic cetrimonium bromide (CTAB). A combination of the reagents successfully distinguished PFOA from all three surfactants at 100% accuracy. This low-cost, handheld assay can be an accessible alternative for rapid in situ estimation of PFOA concentration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number130699
JournalJournal of Hazardous Materials
StatePublished - Mar 15 2023


  • Capillary flow dynamics
  • Microfluidic paper-based analytic device
  • PFOA
  • Smartphone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis

Cite this