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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 WarlockD ( 623872 ) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @09:35PM (#18176114)
    Not to say it wasn't convent to have a computer with a handle.

    That being said, I wonder how hard it would be to miniaturize this kind of scanning technology. There is a real need for smaller computers, but is there a real need for mass-produced mass spectrometers?
  • Re:pussies (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AndersOSU ( 873247 ) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @10:40PM (#18176572)
    I had a colleague who was testing out a new mass-spec machine (probably similar to the one in TFA) to verify cleanliness between campains at a plant site. The machine had been developed for use in airports, and the software already contained the profiles for a number of drugs and explosives. Apparently, as the sibling points out, coke is on a lot of our money. Most of the time it is in the ppb level, which could be transfer from money that was with money that was with money that was with coke. Occasionally however a bill would show 100 - 1000x the typical amount, we concluded that those were bills that made it into peoples noses.

    A related note, a lot of money on the also has measurable levels of meth.

    I don't think the point to this how much money is involved in drug trade, but rather how inter-connected out money is, and how good our analytical chemistry techniques are.

    Although... a terrorist would probably be using money that hasn't been in wide circulation - perhaps we could spot them by seeing if too much money any individual is carrying is devoid of drugs.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @10:51PM (#18176640)
  • OK, but .. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BigLug ( 411125 ) <<ua.ten.etisi> <ta> <mkcir>> on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @11:08PM (#18176838) Homepage

    ...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.
    OK, but if we use this, can we get the chemical composition of Coke or KFC? From there, we should be able to determine the recipe or the 11 Secret Herbs and Spices .. right?
  • by Media Withdrawal ( 704165 ) * on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @11:14PM (#18176870)

    Remember what calculators and computers looked like 20 years ago? In a couple of decades we'll be...laughing ourselves silly at the description 'portable'.

    Har, point taken, but you've gotta be kidding about calculators getting smaller. 25 years ago, I bought a Casio scientific calculator for $39. It was nearly credit-card sized and got me through somewhere between 100 and 160 semester credits of science and math, no sweat. I carried it in my pocket for years and only had to change the batteries once or twice. When the keys finally fell out, I could not find a replacement nearly as portable.

    PS: An earlier poster mentioned Harry Harrison, who indeed liked small devices. His Stainless Steel Rat series was full of pinlights and other improbably miniscule, un-ergonomic gadgets.

  • by Media Withdrawal ( 704165 ) * on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @12:51PM (#18182570)

    30 years ago, a simple +-*/ calculator was easily twice the size of today's standard calculators.

    Yes, yes, and the ENIAC [wikipedia.org] was bigger still. We all know that technology generally advances if you look at long enough stretches of time. What's not obvious to the young, though, is that this change is not smooth, uniform and linear like their coursework, but choppy, multiplex and shaped by random social and market forces. "Two steps forward, one step back" has left a hell of a lot of good design buried in the dustbin of history---the tiny Casio included. Its short tenure was not a simple overshoot of a size optimization problem. Who's to say it wouldn't succeed now that science and engineering include many more people with small fingers, pockets and handbags (i.e. girls, women, people from developing countries)? The longer you work in technology (especially design), the greater the chances that you'll profit by unearthing some of the treasures buried in the archeology of your own field. The past isn't just for dissing.

"I don't believe in sweeping social change being manifested by one person, unless he has an atomic weapon." -- Howard Chaykin