Friday, May 7, 2010

Tricorder Watch

The future is least a tiny sliver.

From The Atlantic...
Sergeant Kris Gilbert of the narcotics squad is teaching his officers to use a new device that’s going to make their job a lot easier. It looks like a vintage cell phone and weighs about 13 ounces. Held against a bag of white powder, it emits a beam of laser light that—in 20 seconds—can tell the officers whether the bag contains crack cocaine, methamphetamine, or baby powder. The device is programmed to recognize 100 narcotics.

What has brought this Star Trek wonder scanner to life is Raman spectroscopy: a quick, easy, and non-invasive tool that tells users in seconds what something really is at the molecular level. Almost every material has its own unique Raman pattern, based on how strongly its atoms are bonded. Recent improvements in technology have shrunk the once expensive, unwieldy tabletop device into an array of smaller, more commercially viable Raman scanners.

The potential medical applications of Raman technology are perhaps the most exciting. Researchers at Stanford are experimenting with it as a non-invasive tool to diagnose breast, lung, and other cancers. Diabetics may someday be able to monitor their glucose without poking themselves to get a drop of blood. Allergy sufferers may be able to instantly detect which pesky pollens are in the air and respond accordingly.

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