Contact: Zongfu Yu, email@example.com
MADISON – Imagine pointing your smartphone at a salty snack you found at the back of your pantry and immediately knowing if its ingredients had turned rancid.
Devices called spectrometers can detect dangerous chemicals based on a unique “fingerprint” of absorbed and emitted light. But these light-splitting instruments have long been both bulky and expensive, preventing their use outside the lab.
Until now. Engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed a spectrometer so small and simple that it could integrate with the camera of a typical cellphone without sacrificing accuracy.
“This is a compact, single-shot spectrometer that offers high resolution with low fabrication costs,” says Zhu Wang, who was among the team of electrical engineers that created the device.
The researchers published a description of the devices recently in the journal Nature Communications.
The team’s devices also have an advanced capability called hyperspectral imaging, which collects information about each individual pixel in an image order to identify materials or detect specific objects amidst a complicated background.
Hyperspectral sensing, for example, could be used to detect seams of valuable minerals within rock faces or to identify specific plants in a highly vegetated area.
Every element’s spectral fingerprint includes unique emitted or absorbed wavelengths of light – and the spectrometer’s ability to sense that light is what has enabled researchers to do everything from analyze the composition of unknown compounds to reveal the makeup of distant stars.