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New pin-sized sensor in smartphones can detect dangerous chemicals

Scientists have developed a novel sensor that can be used in smartphone-sized devices to detect dangerous chemicals based on a unique fingerprint of absorbed and emitted light. Devices called spectrometers are light-splitting instruments that have long been both bulky and expensive, preventing their use outside the lab.

However, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US have now developed a spectrometer so small and simple that it could integrate with the camera of a typical cellphone without sacrificing accuracy. Zhu Wang, who was among the team of engineers that created the device, said that this is a compact, single-shot spectrometer that offers high resolution with low fabrication costs.

The device also has an advanced capability called hyperspectral imaging, which collects information about each individual pixel in an image 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, according to the research published in the journal Nature Communications.

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