inewtrition – Food Product Development Company

Breakthrough sensor for drink spiking detection: a testament to interdisciplinary science

Picture of by Dr. Raphaëlle O'Connor

by Dr. Raphaëlle O'Connor

Raphaelle has over 25 years’ experience in the ideation,
development, and commercialisation of food chemistry,
food science, food technology, and nutrition.

Martini with an ominous shadow of a hand in the background

A sensor developed by 18-year-old Angie Fogarty to detect drink spiking incidents not only addresses a pressing societal issue but also exemplifies the interdisciplinary nature of food and beverage science. This remarkable innovation highlights the collaborative efforts of scientists from diverse fields, underscoring the evolving landscape of food science as a cross-disciplinary endeavour. By bridging gaps between various scientific disciplines, the sensor serves as a prime example of the transformative potential when experts collaborate to develop new food products and technologies.

The Sensor

Fogarty’s sensor for detecting drink spiking operates on a simple yet effective principle. The sensor utilises a two-dye system embedded on a small piece of cellulose paper. When a liquid without diphenhydramine (DPH) comes into contact with the paper, one dye dissolves, resulting in a green colour under ultraviolet light. However, if the liquid contains DPH, a chemical linkage forms between the drug and the dye, suppressing its expression and allowing the colour of the second dye to show through, resulting in a red colour under UV light. This colour-changing reaction provides a quick and reliable indication of the presence of DPH in a drink. What sets this sensor apart from other drink-spiking innovations is its simplicity, affordability, and ease of use. Unlike existing tests that can be complicated to interpret or prone to false positives, Fogarty’s sensor offers a straightforward colour-based system that can be easily understood and utilised by anyone. Furthermore, the sensor’s adaptability to different beverage compositions and its potential for extended applications, such as detecting pyrrole in marijuana or as a breathalyser for cannabis influence, further distinguishes it as a versatile and innovative solution in the field of drink-spiking detection.

The development involved the integration of various scientific disciplines.

  1. Chemistry: Fogarty employed principles of chemistry to understand the chemical reactions between the dyes and diphenhydramine (DPH). She studied the interactions and bonding between the dyes and the drug to create a reliable colour-changing response.
  2. Material Science: The choice of cellulose paper as the substrate for the sensor involved considerations of material properties, including its absorbency, stability, and compatibility with the dyes and liquids tested. Material science played a crucial role in selecting the appropriate substrate for the sensor.
  3. Biochemistry: Fogarty’s understanding of the chemical composition and properties of diphenhydramine (DPH) was essential in designing a sensor that specifically detects this particular substance. Knowledge of biochemistry helped her develop the chemical linkage between the drug and the dye, leading to the desired colour change.
  4. Microbiology: The testing and validation of the sensor involved analysing different beverages and their acidity levels. Understanding the microbial interactions and the effect of acidity on the sensor’s reactions required knowledge of microbiology principles.
  5. Sensory Science: Fogarty considered the usability and ease of interpretation of the sensor’s results. Incorporating principles from sensory science helped her design a colour-based system that is simple to use and understand, enhancing its practicality and accessibility.


Fogarty’s sensor, designed to address the issue of drink spiking, holds promising applications within the broader realm of food and beverage science. The sensor’s ability to detect specific substances in liquids could evolve beyond the original use-case to enhance industry quality control, ensure product safety, and empower consumers with more information about what they consume. The detection capabilities of Fogarty’s sensor offer a valuable tool for combating food and beverage adulteration. Adulteration, the fraudulent addition of inferior or unauthorised substances to products, poses risks to consumer health and undermines industry integrity. The potential of incorporating the sensor’s technology into rapid screening methods could ensure authorities and manufacturers can swiftly identify adulterated products. Fogarty’s sensor not only aids in detecting potential threats but also empowers consumers by providing them with information about the substances present in their drinks. This heightened awareness aligns with the growing consumer demand for transparency and knowledge regarding the products they consume. By embracing this technology, the food and beverage industry can foster trust, strengthen brand loyalty, and prioritise consumer safety.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration and Innovation

Food and beverage science is undergoing a profound transformation, as researchers recognise the need for multidisciplinary approaches to tackle complex challenges. The development of Fogarty’s sensor involved expertise from fields such as chemistry, biology, and engineering. This approach was crucial in successfully designing a sensor that could accurately detect the presence of DPH, providing a valuable tool in the prevention of drug-facilitated assaults.

The interdisciplinary nature of food and beverage science allows experts to bring their unique perspectives and knowledge to the table. Partnership among scientists from diverse backgrounds fosters a holistic understanding of the complexities involved in developing innovative products and technologies. By combining expertise from fields such as biochemistry, microbiology, nutrition, and sensory science, researchers can explore novel approaches to food formulation, preservation, safety, and sensory attributes, leading to advancements that benefit both the industry and consumers.

The development of Fogarty’s sensor demonstrates how breakthrough innovations often occur at the intersection of different scientific disciplines. The convergence of these disciplines enabled the creation of a tool with practical applications in the real world. This is encouraging for scientists to explore uncharted territories, paving the way for transformative advancements that might not have been possible within a single field of study. Today’s complex challenges – food safety, sustainability, and customised nutrition – require comprehensive solutions that draw on expertise from various domains. By embracing an interdisciplinary approach, scientists can harness the collective knowledge to develop sustainable sourcing methods, reduce food waste, improve nutritional profiles, and ensure the safety and quality of food and beverages. Collaboration across disciplines allows for a holistic perspective, enabling researchers to address multifaceted issues from different angles.

Angie Fogarty’s breakthrough sensor for drink spiking detection not only addresses a pressing issue but also highlights the interdisciplinary nature of food and beverage science. The united experience between experts from various fields showcases the transformative power of interdisciplinary approaches in tackling complex challenges. As the field of food science continues to evolve, interdisciplinary collaboration will play a pivotal role in driving innovation, enabling researchers to develop novel food and beverage products, and technologies that enhance safety, sustainability, and consumer satisfaction. By embracing this mindset, scientists can unlock the full potential to shape a healthier, more sustainable future.

Please get in touch with us if you’re looking to collaborate or share ideas on cross-collaboration projects, emerging technologies and/or new product development opportunities.

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