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Sensing smoke with a simple drop of juice or wine

RD&A News | September 2021
17 Sep 2021
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Applications for the 2022 Science and Innovation Awards – supported by Wine Australia – are open until Friday 1 October 2021. We speak to last year’s winner, Dr Suwen Law, about how the award has allowed her to progress her research.

Using nanofabrication techniques, Dr Suwen Law is investigating whether a single drop of grape juice or wine placed on a sensor can detect smoke taint – and to what extent.

She says her Wine Australia-supported Science and Innovation Award has been instrumental in moving her research to the next level.

“The award has allowed me to translate my research into applied and practical technologies to address a very real problem for the wine sector,” said Dr Suwen Law, a Research Associate with the University of Adelaide’s School of Chemical Engineering and Advanced Materials.

Dr Cheryl Suwen

Dr Suwen Law’s project aims to provide growers and winemakers with a tailored ‘lab-on-a-chip’ sensing technology for rapid detection and quantification of smoke exposure in grape, grape juice and wine. The technology works by shining a beam of light through a drop of juice placed on a sensor, and can produce results on the spot.

Dr Suwen Law and her colleagues are currently optimising the structure of their nanoporous platforms to achieve maximum sensitivity in the sensors.

“We have successfully attached a bacterial enzyme to the sensing platforms and we are now analysing how these interact with smoke taint molecules. We are also working with Dr Fiona Whelan from the University of Adelaide’s School of Biological Sciences to develop more binding proteins that are selective for smoke taint molecules,” Dr Suwen Law said.

The experimental device is constructed of a nanoporous platform coated with unique binding molecules. These molecules interact specifically with smoke taint molecules in grape juice and wine samples.

“The technology can be assembled into a palm-sized sensor, the working principle of which relies on changes in the optical signature of our sensing platform upon exposure to smoke taint molecules. These changes can be monitored in real time, which is a desired property to perform precise measurements in vineyards,” Dr Suwen Law explained.

With the growing threat of more frequent bushfires due to climate change, Dr Suwen Law’s research has the potential to save growers and winemakers critical time and assist with decision-making.

“Our aim is to create a cost-competitive analytical tool capable of detecting smoke taint markers in grape juice and wines to minimise financial losses arising from bushfire smoke,” she said.

Dr Suwen Law said she encouraged other researchers to apply for the Award.

“Winning a Science and Innovation Award not only allowed me to advance and consolidate my research work, but also increased my confidence in pursuing a greater pathway in my research career.”

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This content is restricted to wine exporters and levy-payers. Some reports are available for purchase to non-levy payers/exporters.