Modified hydrogel matrices in fibre optic sensors
Common problems encountered in clinical sensing are those of non-biocompatibility, and slow response time of the device. The latter, also applying to chemical sensors, is possibly due to a lack of understanding of polymer support or membrane properties and hence failure to optimise membranes chosen for specific sensor applications. Hydrogels can be described as polymers which swell in water. In addition to this, the presence of water in the polymer matrix offers some control of biocompatibility. They thus provide a medium through which rapid transport of a sensed species to an incorporated reagent could occur. This work considers the feasibility of such a system, leading to the design and construction of an optical sensor test bed. The development of suitable membrane systems and of suitable coating techniques in order to apply them to the fibre optics is described. Initial results obtained from hydrogel coatings implied that the refractive index change in the polymer matrix, due to a change in water content with pH is the major factor contributing to the sensor response. However the presence of the colourimetric reagent was also altering the output signal obtained. An analysis of factors contributing to the overall response, such as colour change and membrane composition were made on both the test bed, via optical response, and on whole membranes via measurement of water content change. The investigation of coatings with low equilibrium water contents, of less than 10% was carried out and in fact a clearer signal response from the test bed was noted. Again these membranes were suprisingly responding via refractive index change, with the reagent playing a primary role in obtaining a sensible or non-random response, although not in a colourimetric fashion. A photographic study of these coatings revealed some clues as to the physical nature of these coatings and hence partially explained this phenomenon. A study of the transport properties of the most successful membrane, on a coated wire electrode and also on the fibre optic test bed, in a series of test environments, indicated that the reagent was possibly acting as an ion exchanger and hence having a major influence on transport and therefore sensor characteristics.