This one is straight out of the science-fiction stories we’re all familiar with – scientists at the Australian National University have developed a device that’s half Doctor Who’s famous sonic screwdriver and half tricorder from Star Trek.
The Doctor uses his screwdriver to analyse the chemical composition of various objects while the tricorder provides detailed analyses of living things to Starfleet’s members.
The scientists have managed to combine these two functions in a diamond-based device that uses nanomechanical sensors and quantum nanosensors – both proven useful in studying macromolecules – that can potentially analyze human tissue.
"What we're doing is looking towards developing a handheld device that can do exactly that chemical analysis," researcher Marcus Doherty explained.
Out of the television and into reality
At present the device is at the proof-of-concept stage, but once it’s ready, it could find extensive use in medicine.
It’s based on MRI imaging technology (that can identify chemical compositions of molecules) and mass spectrometry (which measure molecular mass).
To combine the two, the concept device uses minuscule defects in diamonds, along with advanced quantum techniques, like those used in atomic clocks and gravitational wave detectors, to measure the mass and chemical composition of macromolecules like proteins which drive diseases.
The researchers also hope that this technology will prove useful in the fields of environmental science and biosecurity.
"The next step is to combine the various devices we've made into one chip ... which can then be made into a device that is ready for commercialisation," Doherty said. "We'd be looking at five years as putting together a first prototype, and then another five years to prove that prototype and ready it for market."