Saturday, March 17, 2007

Finally! A tricorder for the masses!!

How many times have we watched Mr. Spock take a tricorder reading and furrow his brow? The handheld analytical device has stepped over the boundary between fantasy and reality thanks to researchers at Purdue University.

Their invention is a combination of two devices: one that sprays an object with ionized water vapor, and a miniaturized mass spectrometer, which detects substances. "The detection is done in an ion trap — an RF device that traps ions, then lets them out on the basis of their masses, enabling you to be exactly sure what compound you are sensing," says R. Graham Cooks, a professor at Purdue's College of Science. Because the 20-pound device performs the ionization step in the air or on surfaces, it is much easier to use than the 300-pound spectrometers used in airports. It has an onboard Windows-based PC that stores the results on its hard drive.

Potential earthbound uses for the real-life tricorder include detecting salmonella in food, disease markers in urine, and cocaine on a rolled-up bill. Two Indiana startups will market it. The original Star Trek tricorder prop was designed by Wah Ming Chang, who also sculpted the phaser. Gene Roddenberry went out of his way to allow any company designing a working tricorder to use the name. — Al Boline

Via EE Times

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