A proof-of-concept for a working handheld chemical scanner has been developed by an international team of researchers. In the paper detailing their ideas in Nano Letters, the team state they hope to have a working model in five years’ time and a saleable device within ten years.
Until now, handheld chemical scanners have been the stuff of science fiction, with mass spectrometers and MRI machines being much too large and bulky for testing in the field. This could be set to change during the next few years with this new research aimed at producing a scanner that can be carried by hand.
To create the diamond-based quantum device that uses technology from atomic clocks and gravitational wave detectors, the researchers examined ways to use the latest findings in the development of nanomechanical sensors and quantum nanosensors. The mass spectrometry aspect of their device utilizes the mass changes that occur when a molecule attaches to a diamond defect. The creation of the rest of the device will involve looking into current devices and finding ways to miniaturize them so they are small enough to be included on one or a small number of chips.
In the paper, the group describes methods for implementing nanomechanical sensing using nanospin-mechanical sensors and have been comparing current limits for mass spectrometry and force microscopy in an extremely small space with what could be potentially achieved. The researchers are now at the stage of building a prototype and suggest that the device could be easily commercialized.
The future device could potentially be used by people in laboratories who do not have the funds to buy today’s bulky machines and also by environmental researchers in the field. The researchers claim that it will provide analytical power at the nanoscale, a level that has never been seen before.
Sources: Barson MSJ, Peddibhotla P, Ovartchaiyapong P et al. Nanomechanical sensing using spins in diamond. Nano Lett. 17(3), 1496–1503 (2017); https://phys.org/news/2017-03-proof-concept-handheld-chemical-scanner.html