New device is half Star Trek tricorder, half Doctor Who’s sonic screwdriver

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."

  • Science-fiction doesn’t have to be restricted to the realm of research, it could well be invading our homes soon in the form of some very helpful homebots.
Sharmishta Sarkar
Managing Editor (APAC)

Sharmishta is TechRadar's APAC Managing Editor and loves all things photography, something she discovered while chasing monkeys in the wilds of India (she studied to be a primatologist but has since left monkey business behind). While she's happiest with a camera in her hand, she's also an avid reader and has become a passionate proponent of ereaders, having appeared on Singaporean radio to talk about the convenience of these underrated devices. When she's not testing camera kits or the latest in e-paper tablets, she's discovering the joys and foibles of smart home gizmos. She's also the Australian Managing Editor of Digital Camera World and, if that wasn't enough, she contributes to T3 and Tom's Guide, while also working on two of Future's photography print magazines Down Under.