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Purdue Unveils a Tricorder

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the beam-me-up dept.

Sci-Fi 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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177 comments

Obligatory... (5, Funny)

garcia (6573) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176048)

a handy 20-lb. device

"He's dead Jim."

"Well, I dropped the tricorder on his head."

Re:Obligatory... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18176068)

Now if they could make it for $20, I would buy it.

Re:Obligatory... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18176314)

Heck, $200 in a USB version with Windows, Linux, and OSX drivers and a nice CD database of element/molecule signatures, I'd buy it. $500 in a Bluetooth version with PalmOS, Windows Mobile, and Symbian Java drivers and a 2GB MiniSD image for the database and I'd buy it.

I've been wondering... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18176108)

Hey Slashdot, why are PC users such ugly dweebs [imageshack.us] in comparison to Mac users [imageshack.us] ? Is it because nobody has the time or patience to put up with Windows/Linux except for friendless, sexless nerds like you?

Re:I've been wondering... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18176640)

Re:I've been wondering... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18176816)

Tubby. Looks Midwestern. Probably couldn't tell a Warhol from a Basquiat.

Re:I've been wondering... (1, Offtopic)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176922)

Tubby? No wonder girls are putting their finger down their throats. Looks healthy to me.

Re:I've been wondering... (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18177030)

She's not naked for fuck sakes

Re:I've been wondering... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18177514)

Probably not, since they're both gimmicky frauds.

Hand-held and pocket-sized (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18176302)

Everything is hand-held - it just depends how much your hand can hold.

Just as everything is "pocket-sized" and "within walking distance"

Re:Obligatory... (4, Funny)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176732)

On the plus side, if you get involved in any shirtless hand-to-hand combat with strangely humanoid aliens, you won't have to go looking for any styrofoam rocks.

smells like ... the future (5, Funny)

chriss (26574) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176054)

In 1992 Harry Harrison (of SF fame) and Marvin Minsky (of AI fame) collaborated on The turing option [amazon.com] , trying to merge Minsky's ideas about how an artificial mind could work with a SF story. Wasn't exactly a masterpiece, but there was an astonishing twist: In the book a brilliant scientist creates the first true AI and embeds it into a sort of fractal robot, whose arms are split into more arms like branches on a tree, ending with thousands of autonomous arms with their own vision each. And the first place this system is used (after being stolen): in agriculture, picking up bugs.

So I will predict the first mass use of Purdue's Tricorder: Japanese toilets!!! [wikipedia.org] . It can already recognize "biomarkers" in urine, so someone will build a cheap version of it into a toilet and every time you take a dump it will tell you what you should not have been eating, how sick you will be tomorrow and that if you continue that way your insurance won't cover your therapy. It will save the health systems billions.

.

Oh, and I'm serious about the toilet part.

Re: The Island (2, Informative)

prakslash (681585) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

fractal robot (1)

exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176344)

Hmmm...they must have stolen it from Rocheworld [york.ac.uk] .

Re:smells like ... the future (1)

greenbird (859670) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176790)

And the first place this system is used (after being stolen): in agriculture, picking up bugs.

Now we know where all the bees are going [slashdot.org] .

First use will be military, second law enforcement (5, Insightful)

AHumbleOpinion (546848) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176902)

So I will predict the first mass use of Purdue's Tricorder: Japanese toilets!!!. It can already recognize "biomarkers" in urine, so someone will build a cheap version of it into a toilet and every time you take a dump it will tell you what you should not have been eating, how sick you will be tomorrow and that if you continue that way your insurance won't cover your therapy. It will save the health systems billions.

The first use will be counterterrorism/counterinsurgency, the second law enforcement. In the law enforcement context they will analyze the air around you when they stop you to chat, pull you over, etc. The molecules leaving your body/clothing/car will enter the public domain atmosphere and be fair game for analysis. It think there is precedent from having dogs sniff the exterior of a car at a border crossing, the pot smell entered the public domain, the trained dog signaled, instant probably cause for a search. Similar justifications will be safety related. "I need to interview you, but first for your safety and mine, I need to scan you."

Re:smells like ... the future (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18177138)

Already predicted by Greg Bear in his novel Slant. Medi-toilets which tell you when you're sick by monitoring your wastes.

pussies (5, Funny)

Penguinshit (591885) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176062)

The research team has used the device to ... identify cocaine on $50 bills in less than 1 second.

REAL playas use Benjamins to snort blow!

Re:pussies (3, Funny)

Prysorra (1040518) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176160)

Where'd they get the cocaine? And it's actually an important point - everything that requires knowing what an material is made of is bound to be used EVERYWHERE.

.......BEEP BEEP. ....MOM! Why is there broccoli in this??

Re:pussies (3, Informative)

rednip (186217) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176410)

Where'd they get the cocaine?
Well, since studies have shown that up to 4 out of 5 [snopes.com] 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).

Re:pussies (1)

kypper (446750) | more than 7 years ago | (#18177688)

Sounds like a market for purification if you ask me.

Re:pussies (3, Interesting)

AndersOSU (873247) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:pussies (3, Funny)

mastershake_phd (1050150) | more than 7 years ago | (#18177130)

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.
 
What a great logical conclusion. I can just see a politician/cop/prosecutor thinking this. Clean money = terrorist. Dirty money = drug user. Lockem up!

Re:pussies (1)

ColaMan (37550) | more than 7 years ago | (#18177134)

You can actually buy cocaine from pharmaceutical companies.

Well, not *you* specifically. But research chemists can get it, it's just another compound. It requires an inordinate amount of paperwork for some reason though. And a few checks (no, not the cash kind, background checks, proposed use,etc). And you're going to have to keep it under lock and key.

But apart from that, yeah, you can get it.

Sources (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 7 years ago | (#18177732)

Where'd they get the cocaine?

Easy - they applied to the DEA for a research permit and were certified to buy small amounts from qualified vendors.
 
Yes, I'm serious. If you are a properly certified research/development facility, and you get an approved permit, you can buy or be loaned all manner of things not available on the 'open' market. This includes cocaine, meth, plutonium - and moon rocks. (And yes, part of being certified is having a tracking and accounting system in place for the material, and there limits as to how much you can obtain.)

Re:pussies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18176600)

REAL playas use Benjamins to snort blow!

Purdue ain't cheap. Neither is coke.

Still waiting for the TNG version (4, Funny)

El Cubano (631386) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176110)

a handy 20-lb. device

Must be the ST:TOS version. At 20 lb, I would imagine that a shoulder strap is mandatory wear. Thanks, but I'll wait until the ST:TNG version hits.

Re:Still waiting for the TNG version (3, Funny)

Anonymous Monkey (795756) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176242)

but the black finish and chrome highlights...It's a classic design.

Re:Still waiting for the TNG version (1)

Spock the Baptist (455355) | more than 7 years ago | (#18177344)

It looks more like a tri-toaster to me...

STB

Re:Still waiting for the TNG version (1)

Khabok (940349) | more than 7 years ago | (#18178060)

Sorry, but I don't need the weirding module.

Re:Still waiting for the TNG version (1)

virgil_disgr4ce (909068) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176466)

This is the interesting/fascinating thing: when I saw the image the first thing that I thought of was news stories / press releases from say, the 80s, about brand new "portable" computers--and I then imagined the future press releases for a device like this that actually *is* the size of a TNG tricorder. Exciting.

Just wait... (1)

freeze128 (544774) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176714)

In the 29th century, it'll be worn on your wrist.

In the 33rd century, it'll be an implant...

Re:Just wait... (1)

WeblionX (675030) | more than 7 years ago | (#18177082)

"I just sniffed what?!"

Re:Still waiting for the TNG version (1)

RealGrouchy (943109) | more than 7 years ago | (#18177958)

a handy 20-lb. device

Actually, TFA says "handheld", instead of TFAS's "handy".

You know..."handheld"--like a suitcase?

- RG>

Take a good look.. (5, Insightful)

ElScorcho (115780) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176112)

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

Re:Take a good look.. (3, Funny)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176128)

Insightful. But it can go the other way: Many laptops these days are more like boat anchors. Well, the ones running Vista, anyway.

Re:Take a good look.. (4, Funny)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176148)

*clarification: Vista does not run well on boat anchors. They really prefer an Aqua interface.*

Re:Take a good look.. (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176712)

Vista does not run well on boat anchors.

      Until you lower them in the water. Then you get to see how they fixed the sleep/shut down problems...

Re:Take a good look.. (1)

jcuervo (715139) | more than 7 years ago | (#18178266)

Until you lower them in the water. Then you get to see how they fixed the sleep/shut down problems...
Hmm.

[ ] Log off
[ ] Shut down
[x] Sleep with the fishes, see?

Re:Take a good look.. (1)

Penguinshit (591885) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176328)

Ever read a Hardy Boys [wikipedia.org] book?

Re:Take a good look.. (1)

xeoron (639412) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176676)

Would be interesting to have such a device in a lighter form that could scan something and inform a person if it is safely eatable or not; it would be a must have for survival package.

RTFA (1)

TheRon6 (929989) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176694)

In a couple of decades we'll be looking at these pictures and laughing ourselves silly at the description 'portable'.

Did you see that thing??? I'm ALREADY laughing myself silly when they say that thing is portable. I must be very ahead of the times...

Re:Take a good look.. (2, Interesting)

Media Withdrawal (704165) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Take a good look.. (1)

fermion (181285) | more than 7 years ago | (#18177086)

Not a good comparison. 20 years ago, this was the calculator [hpmuseum.org] , which is pretty similar to what we use today. Even 25 years ago, the calculator [hpmuseum.org] was a significantly powerful computing machine capable of mass storage, and still fit in a pocket. To get to really massive machines, one has to go back to the pre transistor days, when the mechanical machines were 40 pounds.

God damn, reminds me of my "portable" Kaypro (2, Interesting)

WarlockD (623872) | more than 7 years ago | (#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:God damn, reminds me of my "portable" Kaypro (1)

shaitand (626655) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176222)

Now no. That is a product that must become available before common household applications come to light. As long as it costs $50+ they won't be used much so this has a long way to go. If they are mass produced in a lightweight handheld version with an idiotified interface then I can see this being used all over the place.

Re:God damn, reminds me of my "portable" Kaypro (1)

Fishead (658061) | more than 7 years ago | (#18177784)

$50+? I am short of disposable income right now, but I could sure come up with fifty-bucks real fast if I found a mass spectrometer for that much! Heck, would prolly be able to come up with a couple hundred bucks just for the coolness factor of having a hand-held mass spectrometer. Not sure what I would use it for, but I could probably find a use for it... like convincing the wife that my shirt is still good for a couple more days.

Ebay has several in the thousands, and one for $51 right now... gonna have to keep an eye on that one. At 400lbs though I am gonna have to use 2 hands to carry it ;-)

Re:God damn, reminds me of my "portable" Kaypro (2, Insightful)

rednip (186217) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176360)

but is there a real need for mass-produced mass spectrometers?
Never get ripped off buying blow again! Yeah!

Also, the next cop who busts me might find it useful for testing my 'stash' without destroying it. Farmers could do soil tests out in the field. Ambulance crews could use it for quick diagnosis. A school could have one to transfer between the science classes. And of course Homeland security will buy these by the dozen (* as long as there is a couple good Republican donors on the company's board)

Re:God damn, reminds me of my "portable" Kaypro (2, Insightful)

Original Replica (908688) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176372)

" real need for mass-produced mass spectrometers?"

Police, airport security, and military applications spring to mind easily. The article did point out that they could detect cocaine residues. Other drugs, and explosives are just as easy I'm sure. I wonder what the range is?

Re:God damn, reminds me of my "portable" Kaypro (2, Funny)

encoderer (1060616) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176964)

"I wonder what the range is?"

It can go up to 11.

Re:God damn, reminds me of my "portable" Kaypro (1)

stmfreak (230369) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176488)

There is a real need for smaller computers, but is there a real need for mass-produced mass spectrometers?

I'd buy one.

I'd use it when eating out to test for bacteria, virii and other contaminants.

I'd use it at home to analyze the paint on my walls and products for lead, mercury or other poisons I don't want in my house.

I'd use it on my used engine oil to determine levels of wear.

I'd use it on my kids pee and clothing to see what they've been up to.

I'm sure I'd find other uses for it until I couldn't imagine living without one. Kinda like a phone or a computer with more than 640KB of RAM. :-)

Re:God damn, reminds me of my "portable" Kaypro (1)

Schemat1c (464768) | more than 7 years ago | (#18177458)

I'd use it on my kids pee and clothing to see what they've been up to.
What a wonderful way to build trust with your kids.

Re:God damn, reminds me of my "portable" Kaypro (2, Informative)

reverseengineer (580922) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:God damn, reminds me of my "portable" Kaypro (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18177198)

This IS the miniaturized version of this scanning technology.

Is this the big brother... (1)

stoneycoder (1020591) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176170)

of the robot mentioned a while back that thinks humans taste like bacon. Lets see what this thing thinks your hand is.

Re:Is this the big brother... (1)

JensenDied (1009293) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176198)

raw bacon, until after it scans.

Re:Is this the big brother... (1)

dosius (230542) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176266)

I dunno, but it seems to take tooth fillings for Golden Tickets...

*RUNS*

-uso.

detects explosive compounds (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18176188)

the boston police should be happy about this

Re:detects explosive compounds (3, Funny)

shigelojoe (590080) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176494)

I don't know, I don't think it would be a good idea to send a 20-pound package to the Boston police marked "Warning: Sensitive Electronics".

Re:detects explosive compounds (3, Funny)

tchdab1 (164848) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176558)

>>the boston police should be happy about this

Why, does it also detect portable lighting displays?

Re:detects explosive compounds (4, Funny)

Lord Ender (156273) | more than 7 years ago | (#18177802)

the boston police should be happy about this


Sergeant: Sir, according to this device, the cartoon character is made of plastic. If I remember my extensive training at community college correctly, bombs can be made of plastic explosives. I recommend we shut down the city and destroy all the cartoon characters at great expense to the taxpayers.

Mayor: Sergeant, why waste all the taxpayer's time and money on a few lamps?

Sergeant: Cause fuck em, that's why.

Mayor: Excellent.

Re:detects explosive compounds (1)

RogueSeven (965183) | more than 7 years ago | (#18178194)

You're telling me. I can't wait to become immersed in games like Bomb Squad: Streets of Boston on the Wiidux in 5 or so years.

Desorption Electrospray Ionization (DESI) (1)

Evilest Doer (969227) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176200)

Here is a short blurb [prosolia.com] about how DESI works. It is something worth checking out and then searching Google for since it is the key to how this device works.

Re:Desorption Electrospray Ionization (DESI) (1)

Lord Agni (643860) | more than 7 years ago | (#18178252)

[blinking lights signaling contraband of some kind] LUCYYYY [wikipedia.org] ! You got some splaining to doooooo!

Already got something like it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18176218)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dog#Smell [wikipedia.org]

Dogs can do most of the things this spectrometer is touted for. Dogs can smell explosives and they can detect cancer. They can even tell when people are going to have a seizure in time to provide warning. I just hate the thought of the beagle at the airport becoming unemployed because of this new device.

Re:Already got something like it (1)

budword (680846) | more than 7 years ago | (#18177046)

The beagle is portable too...

IGEN Tricorder released in 2000 (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#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 [bioveris.com]

and it detects

  • E. coli
  • Salmonella
  • Listeria
  • Cryptosporidium
  • Botulinum Neurotoxin A & B , E & F
  • Staph A
  • Staph B
  • Ricin
  • Anthrax

Re:IGEN Tricorder released in 2000 (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176264)

licenced the Tricorder (R) name from Paramount

      All they have to do is call it a Tri-quarter and viola, problem solved ;)

Re:IGEN Tricorder released in 2000 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18176408)

What does a viola have to do with anything?

Re:IGEN Tricorder released in 2000 (2, Funny)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176468)

What does a viola have to do with anything?

      It's how drunk Frenchmen say "voila"...

Re:IGEN Tricorder released in 2000 (1)

UncleTogie (1004853) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176876)

What does a viola have to do with anything?

Must be strung out...

Doesn't seem very trek-like (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18176284)

Data: Geordi, the Galorndon core is unstable. We need to beam you up to the Enterprise immediately.

Geordi: Hold on Data. I seem to be picking be picking residual biophotonic signatures on my tricorder... wait, it's still scanning. Let me get back to you in a few minutes.

The weight (5, Funny)

hack slash (1064002) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176292)

After carrying one of those around all day with a shoulder strap you'd welcome a Vulcan nerve pinch to ease the pain.

Very clever (2)

bendodge (998616) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176304)

This does indeed have enormous potential. But - how many million does it cost?

Looks like a... (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18176312)

Spock: It looks like a toaster Jim.
Jim: Spock...what's a toaster?
Spock: It was a early 21st century tool for draining primitive power sources.
Jim: Why would they need such a tool?
Spock: The existence of such a tool defies logic Jim.
Dr. McCoy: YOU VILE EARTH BASHING VULCAN. Everything that was made by pre-space fairing human defies logic.
Dr. McCoy: I was used to prepare food, YOU POINTY-EARED AUTOMATON.

Jim: Oh look...toast

Re:Looks like a... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18176618)

"And it makes really cool noises, Cap'n!"

"Give me that, you fat, bloated, EE-DIOT!!"

Anyone know anything about these? (1)

arlo5724 (172574) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176330)

I'm not in this field (mathematician, no fancy equipment required) but I am curious, why do these things have to be so large in the first place. Anyone in the know point me to a good explanation of how these work? My curiosity is piqued. A quick google search didn't return much for me.

Re:Anyone know anything about these? (3, Informative)

sokoban (142301) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176422)

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.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_spectrometry [wikipedia.org]

Re:Anyone know anything about these? (2, Insightful)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176638)

why do these things have to be so large in the first place. Anyone in the know point me to a good explanation of how these work?

      Here [wikipedia.org] for some vague info on how a spectrometer works. Basically you have to turn the stuff to gas (so you need a heating unit), then you have to ionize it, then you shove the whole lot into a magnetic field of known strength.

      Since the degree of deflection of a particle when it passes through the magnetic field is proportional to a) charge and b) mass of the particle, what you end up measuring is a series of peaks at certain points on a graph. This info (when compared to charts of known compounds) lets you know the composition of the substance you tested. That's the way it was at the beginning.

      Then someone said why don't we just stream the particles from a homogenized sample, and vary the strength of the magnetic field. That way we simplify our detection part of the equipmet.

      This is a very general idea of the principles, obviously you could spend years learning all the techniques, and I haven't been in a lab for a while. At the beginning all we could work out was the types of elements involved in a compound, and empirical formulae. The separation and ionization techniques have been refined somewhat, and now we can compare different molecules instead of atoms, which helps a great deal in figuring out what we're looking at.

      Getting back to your question, the unit invariably has to be a bit bulky since you need a) a powerful magnet and b) an adequate distance to "catch" all the particles you are interested in.

Re:Anyone know anything about these? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18177006)

Just to add a bit about chemical elucidation...

Mass spec is a very useful aid in determining what a chemical is, but by itself is not a definative tool for identifying a compound. Nor is any single testing method.

When one analyzes a compound via MS, you ionize it. Lets really extrapolate on what that is. When you "ionize" a chemical, basically what you are doing is breaking it into (sometimes several) fragments that are charged, each with a distinct mass. If you send all of these fragments into a magnetic field with the same starting energy, they will travel thru it with varying velocities, depending on both the mass of the fragment and the charge of the ion. What I am describing is basic time of flight mass spectrometry that lets you seperate the fragments from hitting a detector over time. (For those in the know, yes, this is sort of an analogy, but hey, this is slashdot). The pattern of how the fragements hits the detector produces a graph, and by comparing that graph to known compounds, one can find matches (this is how the analytical chemist looks at it, as opposed to say, an organic research chemist who looks for patterns in the spectrum to identify what the fragments look like they are). What keeps this from being a definitive identification? Well, lots of different but similar chemicals will ionize into similar fragments. You can have 2 molecules where one is twice as large as the other, but they break down to the same ionized fragments in the same proportion, to give an example. So Mass Spec is very useful in limiting the possiblities of what a sample may be to a smaller group of compounds, but it doesn't tell you which one it is.

This is why in chemistry, when a new compound is defined, we use several different methods of spec to determine a what a molecule is. For an organic compound, you really want to have run an AA to determine preportions of the various different types of atoms composed of, also you might want say, an infrared analysis to see what types of functional groups might be there, maybe (but of less use) an xray diffraction of the crystalline structure. There are other methods as well, (UV comes to mind), but if you want the best information you can get, even better than mass spec, you really need an NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) which I won't even start to describe here (see the big blue book). The combination of all of these various methods of analysis combined produces a very, very good idea of what you are looking at. A true "tricorder" would be able to run all of these tests.

   

The StarTrek Days will come when... (1)

StickyWidget (741415) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176334)


The StarTrek Days will come when I can finally transfer auxiliary power to the shields in my Jetta....

Re:The StarTrek Days will come when... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18177694)

U drive a Jetta??? No wonder you need shields. Tell me, if you press the brakes, does it stop before 100 ft?
-:)) Sorry couldn't stop digging you on a Jetta...

Liars! (0)

sokoban (142301) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176378)

So, this is just a DESI and mass spec. in a 20 lb package.

That's no sort of tricorder. That's a monocorder. A tricorder measures THREE things, hence TRI.

Damn lying hoosiers.

Re:Liars! (1)

Anonymous Monkey (795756) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176412)

So, throw in a geiger-counter(sp) and a thermometer/barometer and you are set.

Re:Liars! (1)

MarkKB (845289) | more than 7 years ago | (#18177294)

I would presume that a tricorder triangulates co-ordinates, but that's just me.

Re:Liars! (1)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 7 years ago | (#18177900)

Glue on a GPS reciever and a spectrum analyzer. May be a few more pounds though...

It's a prototype. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18176492)

It's a prototype. I'm guessing the first production model will be 10 pounds and then it'll get smaller at the same rate as everything else. Much smaller in 5 years, a lot fucking smaller within 10.

Anyone remember the brick cell phones?

Actually, this is not the first... (1)

Flailmonkey (1018430) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176656)

While it is a new design, and has different features, this is in fact not the first tricorder that has been made. http://www.stim.com/Stim-x/0996September/Sparky/tr icorder.html [stim.com] 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!

Two measurements ? (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176682)

Wouldn't that be a Bi-corder rather than a Tri-corder?

I'm holding out for the next generation.

Bi-corder, eh? (1)

ThePsion5 (1037256) | more than 7 years ago | (#18177804)

Then there's some information I need to retrieve from my wife...

Actually, this is not the first... (3, Informative)

Flailmonkey (1018430) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176706)

While it is a new design, and has different features, this is in fact not the first tricorder that has been made.

http://www.stim.com/Stim-x/0996September/Sparky/tr icorder.html [stim.com] 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!

Beagle II rushed - Transformers not responsible. (1)

mr-mafoo (891779) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176830)

Bear with me, this could seem a little longwinded - and verging on the conspiricy theory side

As we know the beagle 2 mars mission tragically dissappeared on entry into the martian atmosphere. This shouldnt really come as any surprise to anyone in the UK who watch the televised lead up to the launch and landing as they will remember the breaking airbags never worked. Yes, when tested inside a low atmosphere chamber (wiithout even making contact with a surface - less at speed) they popped - boom - poof.

The only reason why I think they launched the probe, neihg - given it any funding, was the one funky peice of equiptment it had on it. A pocket sized Mass Spectrometer. The sooner they write off the beagle project the sooner they could commertialise their research.

I wonder if the above device has anything to do with a ceartain small hound. Meh, random speculation

OK, but .. (2, Interesting)

BigLug (411125) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176838)

...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?

Re:OK, but .. (1)

JoshJ (1009085) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176936)

Well, yes, but you won't get it in a cooking recipe form.
Consider an apple- you'd get things like "fructose", "sodium", etc. You wouldn't point it at an apple and get "apple". It'd take a lot more effort to do what you suggest than you think.

My one question.. (1)

billcopc (196330) | more than 7 years ago | (#18176942)

Can it detect suspicious tachyon emissions coming out of my PC ?

No Surprise (1)

kahrytan (913147) | more than 7 years ago | (#18177040)

It's no surprise to me that such a scanning device is developed. And like any new technology, it is always just the beginning.

After all, We have the quantum computer, beginning to master quantum entanglement for teleportation, tractor beam, and last but not least, Geordi's visor to allow blind people to see.

What we need next is a energy based weapon and energy shield.

Re:No Surprise (1)

subl33t (739983) | more than 7 years ago | (#18177366)

What we need NOW is the replicator. Screw everything else.

Futurama Reference (1)

likewowandstuff (859213) | more than 7 years ago | (#18177824)

It's not a precise quote, but the best I can do right now. I wonder what the results of field research on the Mini 10 will be?

Shifty Alien: This is Z Ray.
Fry: Is it like an X Ray?
Shifty Alien: Yes, but is better, is Z.

[Bender aims Z Ray at Fry's pants]
Fry: Ow, my sperm!
[Bender pushes button again]
Fry: Well, it didn't hurt that time.

DESI?? (1)

Prysorra (1040518) | more than 7 years ago | (#18177950)

Am I seriously the first to wonder how many people from India worked on this project?

Need this on Mars Science Lab!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18178038)

This is the instrument that is so needed. Wow! Excellent. Seriously, if it can tell organic molecules apart, volatiles, and the alkali metals, not just the iron oxides that MER A and B can detect, this would be exactly what the next generation rover needs!
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