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Sci-Fi Science

Purdue Unveils a Tricorder 177

aeoneal writes "According to Science Daily, mass spectrometry is no longer limited to what can be taken to the lab. Purdue researchers have created a device they liken to a tricorder, a handy 20-lb. device that combines mass spectrometry with DESI (desorption electrospray ionization), allowing chemical composition to be determined outside of a vacuum chamber. Purdue suggests this could be useful for everything from detecting explosive substances or cancer to predicting disease. Researcher R. Graham Cooks says, 'We like to compare it to the tricorder because it is truly a hand-held instrument that yields information about the precise chemical composition of samples in a matter of minutes without harming the samples.'"
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Purdue Unveils a Tricorder

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @09:49PM (#18176238)
    IGEN (now called Bioveris) is a biotech in MD that licenced the Tricorder (R) name from Paramount for their product. PDF list o products []

    and it detects

    • E. coli
    • Salmonella
    • Listeria
    • Cryptosporidium
    • Botulinum Neurotoxin A & B , E & F
    • Staph A
    • Staph B
    • Ricin
    • Anthrax
  • Re: The Island (Score:3, Informative)

    by prakslash ( 681585 ) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @09:51PM (#18176254)
    Interestingly, the "toilet tricorder" was shown in the 2005 movie "The Island" starring Ewan McGregor. The toilet detected too much salt/nitrates in the urine and restricted him from eating bacon.
  • Re:pussies (Score:4, Informative)

    by rednip ( 186217 ) * on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @10:14PM (#18176410) Journal

    Where'd they get the cocaine?
    Well, since studies have shown that up to 4 out of 5 [] circulated bills have traces of cocaine, I'd say that it was fairly easy. However, before you try to smoke your $50s, the amount per bill is very small (16 micrograms).
  • by sokoban ( 142301 ) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @10:15PM (#18176422) Homepage
    A mass spectrometer needs to be a certain size since it ionizes a molecule to break it into smaller pieces and then passes them through a magnetic field. The charge (of the ion fragments) interacts with the magnetic field to cause the path of the fragment to bend. The radius of the curvature of the deflection is correlated to the mass/charge ratio, thus the mass spectrometer will tell how massive the fragments are. By knowing the mass of the fragments, the formula and structure of the compound can be elucidated by using a few tricks based on the isotopic abundance of elements in the earth.

    Wikipedia has a pretty good article and diagram. []
  • by reverseengineer ( 580922 ) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @10:39PM (#18176562)
    I doubt there could be quite as much of a need for smaller mass spec than there is for smaller computers, but I think applications will definitely be found for man-portable mass spec as these devices become smaller and more robust. One of these would allow for rapid trace chemical analysis in the field instead of collecting samples and taking them back to the lab (or to what before counted as "portable," an MS that could fit in a van). I think something like this would be great for lab analysis as well. In the lab I work in, there are only a few mass spectrometers in comparison to a large number of smaller, lower cost detectors like spectrophotometers and refractive index detectors.

    This is because mass spec instruments are large (fairly new benchtop ones aren't nearly 300 pounds like the article states, though- maybe 100 or so) and expensive (hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars) while UV spectrophotometers are comparatively small and cheap (tens of thousands of dollars, and about the size of a toaster oven). Mass spec is also rather complex in its benchtop form- the instrument I work with also requires a gas cylinder and a vacuum pump for operation- and it requires very frequent maintenance to keep working right, particularly maintenance of the electrospray ionization source.

    However, the sensitivity of a mass spec instrument is unparalleled (down to femtograms and attograms of material) and by providing molecular weights and fragment ions, is a huge aid to characterizing unknowns. As an example from personal experience, I've worked with three different methods for the detection of one particular molecule: liquid-chromatography with UV detection, LC with fluorescent detection, and LC-MS. The LC-MS method is at least 100 times more sensitive than the other two. While an instrument like this probably cannot do all the things a high-end instrument can do, it does seem like it could be an attractive option. I can definitely see more and more labs going to mass spec as it becomes smaller, more affordable, and easier to use.

  • by Flailmonkey ( 1018430 ) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @10:56PM (#18176706)

    While it is a new design, and has different features, this is in fact not the first tricorder that has been made. icorder.html [] talks about the very first "tricorder," but it doesn't look like it was very successful. Maybe Purdue's device will stick around longer.

    By the way, something that is very interesting to note is that Gene Roddenberry allows anyone who creates devices like the ones in Star Trek (and presumably its variations) can use the names used in the show. Get to work all you Trekkie engineers!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @11:37PM (#18177030)
    She's not naked for fuck sakes
  • by rpbird ( 304450 ) on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @05:57PM (#18186952) Homepage Journal
    Nope, not unless the Supreme Court is overthrown. They ruled several years ago in a case involving the police use of FLIR to spy on the houses of suspected pot growers, that the use of remote sensing equipment without a warrant is a violation of the "Unwarranted Search" clause of the Bill of Rights. The cops tried to use the "plain sight" exception, but since we don't see in infrared, the court wasn't having any of it. I think the tricorder would fall under this ruling. Using a tricorder without the express permission of the suspect would be a similar violation.

    Though this does bring up an inconsistency. As you pointed out, US law does allow for the use of dogs to detect drugs. Or does the officer have to get permission to use the dog? Not having smuggled drugs, this is an area I'm woefully ignorant in.

    I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV.

Beware of Programmers who carry screwdrivers. -- Leonard Brandwein