Tag Archives: spectrometer

A $550 handheld spectral analyzer could usher in new medical revolution

Hi-tech medical testing could be made much more accessible with this cheap hand-held device which attaches itself to a smartphone.

The spectral transmission-reflectance-intensity (TRI)-Analyzer attaches to a smartphone and analyzes patient blood, urine, or saliva samples as reliably as clinic-based instruments that cost thousands of dollars. Image credits: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

It’s capable of analyzing patient blood, urine, or saliva samples as reliably as standard lab equipment which costs thousands or tens of thousands of dollars each. It’s also small and can be easily moved around the hospital.

“Our TRI Analyzer is like the Swiss Army knife of biosensing,” said Professor Brian Cunningham, the Professor of Engineering and director of the Micro + Nanotechnology Lab at Illinois. “It’s capable of performing the three most common types of tests in medical diagnostics, so in practice, thousands of already-developed tests could be adapted to it.”

Cunningham and his colleagues detail their findings in a recently published paper. While not identical, their results were comparable to typical lab tests. The portable lab works by turning a smartphone’s camera into a high-performance spectrometer. It illuminates the sample with the phone’s internal white LED flash (or an inexpensive external diode). The light is then gathered into an optical fiber and sent down a diffraction grating, into the phone’s camera. All of this is arranged into a 3D printed plastic structure. Due to this simple, scalable structure, the device can also analyze several samples at once.

“Our Analyzer can scan many tests in a sequence by swiping the cartridge past the readout head, in a similar manner to the way magnetic strip credit cards are swiped,” said Long.

For now, they used it to conduct two tests: a biomarker associated with pre-term birth in pregnant women and the PKU test for newborns to indirectly assess enzymes associated with normal growth and development. Researchers say it could be used for a wide array of other tests, including a wide variety of proteins and antibodies in the blood. Basically, like any light spectrometer, it’s able to detect anything that causes a change in the color or light output of the sample.

It’s not just medical applications either — the device could be used in animal health, environmental monitoring, drug testing, manufacturing quality control, and food safety. The technology has been patented and is available for license.

Journal Reference: Kenneth D. Long, Elizabeth V. Woodburn, Huy M. Le, Utsav K. Shah, Steven S. Lumett and Brian T. Cunningham — Multimode smartphone biosensing: the transmission, reflection, and intensity spectral (TRI)-analyzer. DOI:10.1039/C7LC00633K

Portable smartphone laboratory can detect cancer with 99% accuracy

A Washington State University team has created a portable, low-cost smartphone lab which can analyze several samples at once for a cancer biomarker.

A schematic of the device.
Image credits WSU.

Waiting for your medical results can be a harrowing experience. All you know is that you’ve been to the doctor when something in your body went wrong. Now you have to wait, powerless, for a phone call that could set you free from worry or thrust your next few years in a jumble of tests, procedures, and medication. Even if it turns out to be nothing, that waiting time will feel like hell on earth.

Especially with cancer.

Now, a WSU team lead by Lei Li, assistant professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, brought the technology used in lab settings to an average smartphone, to offer on the spot cancer tests to doctors’ offices, ambulances, and the ER. Their system consists of an eight-channel smartphone spectrometer which can pick up on human interleukin-6 (IL-6), a biomarker for a host of cancers.

It’s not the first smartphone spectrometer out there, but previous versions could only measure one sample at a time, making them too slow for field applications. The WSU multichannel device can analyze up to eight different samples at once using a test known as ELISA — colorimetric test enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. This has been described as the “gold standard clinical diagnostic tool for the detection and quantification of protein biomarkers,” (Thiha A., Ibrahim F., 2015), and it uses antibodies and color change to identify a substance.

“With our eight channel spectrometer, we can put eight different samples to do the same test, or one sample in eight different wells to do eight different tests. This increases our device’s efficiency,” said Li, who has filed a provisional patent for the work.

After testing the device with standard lab-controlled samples, the WSU device achieved up to 99% accuracy. The researchers are hopeful it will be just as reliable in the field, and have started applying the portable spectrometer in real world cases.

“The spectrometer would be especially useful in clinics and hospitals that have a large number of samples without on-site labs, or for doctors who practice abroad or in remote areas,” he said. “They can’t carry a whole lab with them. They need a portable and efficient device.”

Right now, Li’s spectrometer is available only for the iPhone 5. He said the team is working on making the design compatible with any smartphone.

A paper describing the device titled “A multichannel smartphone optical biosensor for high-throughput point-of-care diagnostics” has been published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.

Image: SCiO

A pocket-sized gadget uses spectroscopy and tells you what’s inside food

One of the most exciting gadgets we’ve seen at CES Las Vegas this year comes from a French startup called DietSensor, which collaborated with Israeli company Consumer Physics. Their latest product called SCiO is a pocket-sized device that uses near-infrared spectroscopy to tell you how many carbs or calories are found inside your food.

Image: SCiO

Image: SCiO

Just like any spectrometer, the SCiO analyzes the chemical makeup of food and drink by working out the complex interactions between molecules and light. Basically, by analyzing the unique optical signature of the scanned material, it’s possible to determine what it’s made out of. That being said, the SCiO should work with anything: food, drink, pills, plants, dogs. The problem is it won’t be that helpful if you use it for anything other than food – heterogeneous food, to be more precise.

If you point the device on a piece of cheese or bread, it will tell you the fat content and carbs. Because it also comes with an app, all this data can be integrated so you receive custom tips like “hey stop off that cheese, because you already had 23grams already”. Those with medical conditions like diabetes who need to be very careful what they eat or drink might benefit the most from the device.

The device shines a blue light on the object you want chemically analyzed. Image: SCiO

The device shines a blue light on the object you want chemically analyzed. Image: SCiO

Now, a spectrometer isn’t that much of a big deal. They’ve been around for decades. What’s impressive about the SCiO is its size, given most spectrometers are the size of a microwave oven. At the same time, the small size should make you skeptical of its accuracy.

According to its developers, the SCiO was scaled down by handling the analysis itself externally, while the handheld gadget only takes the samples. First, the SCiO shines a light on a sample (food), and once this light is reflected  the device extracts the molecular fingerprint of that sample. The user then connects via a smartphone or tablet to the Consumer Physics’ database of physical matter and when it finds a match, it returns a result.

“SCiO is unique as it is based on a tiny spectrometer, designed from the ground up to be mass-produced at low cost with minimal compromise on the available application. This unique feature is achieved by several technology breakthroughs our team has made in the past few years, as we reinvented the spectrometer around low-cost optics and advanced signal processing algorithms,” the company writes on its website.

The SCiO scanner is available for $249. Consumer Physics has raised more than $10 million via Kickstarter, as well as a round of funding from Khosla Ventures, crowdfunding platform Ourcrowd, strategic investors, and angels.

Move over, toys: scientists create LEGO replica of a nuclear spectrometer

A new model of a spectrometer was unveiled by Australian national nuclear research and development organisation (ANSTO); but this one is made of LEGOs.

Image via ANSTO.

Bbuilt by John Burfoot of Macquarie  ICT Innovations Centre (MacICT), the replica is absolutely stunning, and one of the goals is to get kids more interested in science.Burfoot, a science and robotics facilitator at MacICT, spent the model over several weeks. He said:

“About a third of the time went on the design, another third on building it and the final third on the programming,” said Burfoot, who has designed many robots for school education previously but not a scientific instrument until now. He described the experience as exciting, inspiring and a little bit scary. “It recaptured the flow or synergy you feel during the creative process—something that children who build robotic models can also experience.” When he encountered technical problems, he consulted with student engineers at Macquarie University to find solutions.

It’s also another reminder that LEGOs aren’t just toys – they’re educational tools as well. Six local school kids whose parents work at ANSTO will construct another Taipan model themselves, adding their own improvements and refinements.

Instrument Scientist, Kirrily Rule, who operates Taipan (the spectrometer) is very enthusiastic about this new resource:

”It’s very different than the LEGO I used as a kid. Much more than a toy, education officers can use the model to demonstrate physics to children and hopefully stimulate their interest in science,” said Rule. Like the original instrument, it has moving parts. “You can control how it moves, just like our Taipan, which bends like a snake,” said Rule.

Taipan is a triple-axis spectrometer developed for the study of collective motions of atoms in solids – and the replica mimics it almost exactly (with the obvious limitations of LEGO pieces). It even has a small glass prism used as a sample.

“We are using the prism to split the white light into the colours of the rainbow – which each have different wavelengths (and energies) – to show how the neutron’s energy can change during the interaction with the sample,” said Rule.“So instead of thermal neutrons in the LEGO model, we are using light. The concept is very similar.”

Instrument scientist Kirrily Rule (second from right) explains how ANSTO’s real triple axis spectrometer Taipan works to kids who have an interest in LEGO robotics. Image via ANSTO.

They also used a mirror-like material for the model to reflect the light from the prism.

“We used offcuts from the silicon panels that came from our Emu instrument, which brings another level of accuracy to the model,” explained Rule.

Dr Damien Kee, an education technology expert said that creations such as this encourage kids to think more creatively and to actively engage in scientific activities.

Now, ANSTO plans to build even more instruments from LEGOs – and personally, I think this is a great initiative.

In this illustration, the Quantum Dot (QD) spectrometer device is printing QD filters — a key fabrication step. The dots are made by printing droplets. Image: MIT

Spectrometer is small enough to fit in your smartphone

MIT engineers demonstrated a working spectrometer that took a huge leap in scale from a huge, bulky lab gear to a portable piece of equipment that’s small enough to fit in a smartphone. Spectrometer are essential to research nowadays, employed in everything from physics, to biology, to chemistry. To design the spectrometer, the MIT team made use of tiny semiconductor nanoparticles called quantum dots. Having a portable spectrometer could prove to be extremely practical .You can use it to remotely diagnose diseases, detect pollution or food poisoning.

In this illustration, the Quantum Dot (QD) spectrometer device is printing QD filters — a key fabrication step.  The dots are made by printing droplets. Image: MIT

In this illustration, the Quantum Dot (QD) spectrometer device is printing QD filters — a key fabrication step. The dots are made by printing droplets. Image: MIT

The basic function of a spectrometer is to take in light, break it into its spectral components and digitize the signal as a function of wavelength. The information is then read by a computer and shown on a display. Raindrops split a beam of white sunlight into rays of colored light, bending the blueish ones more than the reddish ones to make the well-known arc in the sky. Rain, then, is a brilliant method for separating sunlight. Indeed, the earlier spectrometers consisted of prisms that separate light into its constituent wavelengths, while current models use optical equipment such as diffraction gratings to achieve the same effect. Even so, this kind of equipment is huge. The spectrometer developed at MIT is about the size of a quarter!

The researchers have quantum dots to thank for this achievement. Quantum dots are a type of nanocrystals that absorb light. These are often called artificial atoms because, like real atoms, they confine electrons to quantized states with discrete energies. However, although real atoms are identical, most quantum dots comprise hundreds or thousands of atoms, with inevitable variations in size and shape and, consequently, unavoidable variability in their wavefunctions and energies. This is actually a good thing in this case. The quantum dots are made by mixing various  metals such as lead or cadmium with other elements including sulfur, selenium, or arsenic. By controlling the ratio between the materials, you get quantum dots with specific, unique properties.

Nowadays, quantum dots are heavily researched for use in solar panels or for TV displays, since they also fluoresce. While these applications are quite challenging at this stage, quantum dot light absorption is very well studied and as such any spectrometer that uses them can be expected to give out stable results.

The MIT researchers printed hundreds of quantum dots – each absorbing a specific wavelength of light – into a thin film and placed on top of a photodetector such as the charge-coupled devices (CCDs) found in cellphone cameras. An algorithm identifies the percentage of photons absorbed by each dot, then uses this info to compute the intensive and wavelength of the original beam of light. The more quantum dot materials there are, the more wavelengths can be covered and the higher resolution can be obtained. In this case, 200 quantum dots were deployed over a range of 300 nanometers. By adding even more dots, engineers could build a small spectromer that covers the whole range of wavelenghts.

“Using quantum dots for spectrometers is such a straightforward application compared to everything else that we’ve tried to do, and I think that’s very appealing,” says Moungi Bawendi, the Lester Wolfe Professor of Chemistry at MIT and the paper‘s senior author.

Previously, another team from the same MIT unveiled a handheld mass spectrometer. Coupled with this latest news, one might imagine scientists, doctors or hazard control officers using both optical and mass spectrometers in the field quite easily and reliably.

Moving closer to life on Mars: Curiosity Rover identifies its first mineral

For the first time in its mission to study Mars and the potential for life on it, the Curiosity Rover has identified a mineral. The rover took samples by drilling in a Martian mountain and was then able to make the identification. The mineral in case is called hematite.

This image shows the first holes drilled by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity at Mount Sharp. The loose material near the drill holes is drill tailings and an accumulation of dust that slid down the rock during drilling. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Hematite is an iron oxide (Fe2O3) – one of several iron oxides actually. Colored black to steel or silver-gray, brown to reddish brown, or rarely red, hematite is usually associated with water, but it can occur without water as well. The spectral signature of hematite was seen on the planet Mars by the infrared spectrometer on the NASA Mars Global Surveyor (“MGS”) and 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft in orbit around Mars. However, this is the first time the mineral has been identified in situ.

Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said in a statement:

“This connects us with the mineral identifications from orbit, which can now help guide our investigations as we climb the slope and test hypotheses derived from the orbital mapping.”

Naturally, this find is interesting for several reasons. First of all, since the mineral typically occurs in aqueous environments and its existence on Mars was confirmed, it could be an indication of former (or perhaps even present) Mars habitation.

“We’ve reached the part of the crater where we have the mineralogical information that was important in selection of Gale Crater as the landing site,” said Ralph Milliken of Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, and member of Curiosity’s science team. “We’re now on a path where the orbital data can help us predict what minerals we’ll find and make good choices about where to drill. Analyses like these will help us place rover-scale observations into the broader geologic history of Gale that we see from orbital data.”

Hematite is a good environmental indicator – in other words, there’s a good chance that studies on the mineral can reveal how the surface of the Red Planet looked like in the geological past. Also, the fact that Curiosity was able to identify the mineral is also a good sign; it shows that the machines are working fine and we can expect more intriguing discoveries in the future. For example, this tiny sample alone contains magnetite, hematite and olivine in a range of oxidization states.

Magnetite is another iron oxide (Fe3O4) most known for being naturally magnetic. The fact that it was found in conjunction with hematite suggests that the hematite was formed by magnetite degradation. This happens when magnetite is exposed to water and the atmosphere, so again, a good suggestion. Olivine is a mineral which occurs in igneous rocks.

This side-by-side comparison shows the X-ray diffraction patterns of two different samples collected from rocks on Mars by NASA’s Curiosity rover. NASA/JPL-CALTECH

This sample was taken from a location dubbed “Confidence Hills” at the base of Mount Sharp (a.k.a. Aeolis Mons) at an outcrop called “Pahrump Hills.” The mountain appears to be an enormous mound of eroded sedimentary layers sitting on the central peak of Gale. It rises 5.5 km (18,000 ft) above the northern crater floor and 4.5 km (15,000 ft) above the southern crater floor. The drilled rock dust was then dropped into CheMin, which uses X-ray diffraction to detect the chemical fingerprint of minerals locked in the rock. X-ray diffraction is a tool used for identifying the atomic and molecular structure of a crystal by emitting a beam of light and then measuring how the diffracted beams bounce off of the crystal.

Image credits: NASA/JPL.

Another NASA Mars rover, Opportunity, made a key discovery of hematite-rich spherules on a different part of Mars in 2004. That finding was important as evidence of a water-soaked history that produced those mineral concretions.

The discovery further strengthens that at one point in its past, Mars was much wetter than it is now. It also shows how important it is to conduct more studies on the surface of Mars. We need to get more instruments there, more rovers, or why not – more boots.