Star fleet got all the coolest gadgets, and while tricorders might not be as sexy as phasers set to kill or as epic as warp drive, if you ask people "Okay, who wants a box that can identify materials just by being pointed at them" you'd better hire a whole team of math professors just to count all the money you'll make. Luckily the makers of the new device work at Harvard University, so there'll be no shortage of those.
The heart of the device is a Quantum Cascade Laser Chip, which proves that every lab hires at least one person whose sole job is "Come up with awesome sounding names". With super cool microengineering that makes Q look like a steam-engine mechanic, they've put thirty-two lasers on a chip smaller than any of the coins in your pocket. Normally a laser is fixed to a single wavelength of light by design - that's kind of the point - but these lilliputian lasers are so small their semiconductor design can be tuned by tiny applied voltages.
Having more lasers than a football team of Stormtroopers on a device smaller than your fingernail is rock solid amazing. That goes without saying. But what use is it? This laser-lab-on-a-chip will usher in new age of extremely accurate chemical sensing. Spectroscopy is the grown up science version of "Telling what something is by looking at its colour". Not limited to our simple human sensitivity of "sky blue, grass green", spectroscopic measurements can identify materials by the exact wavelengths they emit or absorb when exposed to a wide spectrum of light - like that from the quantum cascade laser array. And yes, that name remains fantastic every time I write it.
Every material has a unique fingerprint of wavelengths, meaning these sensors could find use in medical sensing, pollution monitoring, chemical quality control and a significantly wider field of applications than the current bulky infrared spectroscopes. Expect to see them carefully vetting your carry-ons for hidden explosive compounds. Then we'll really know we're living in a fantastic future world - not only can we fly through the skies with lasers smaller than a shirt button, but we'll be able to carry a whole tube of toothpaste when we do it! Astonishing!
Posted by Luke McKinney
Related Galaxy posts:
"Star Trek" Warp Speeds a Reality? Scientists Claim Quantum Tunneling Exceeds Speed of Light
“Star Trek” Teleportation: Physicists Develop a Way to “Beam Up” Atoms
Cool Star Trek Warp Drive Wrath of Khan Video Clip
The Star Trek Cosmos -Where Have the Beatles & Stephen King Gone?
NASA's Search for the Planet Vulcan
Star Trek XI -The Movie, a Preview
The Quest for Spock's Origins
Quantum cascade laser chip http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/071203111254.htm
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference StarTrek Redux -TinyTricorders -A Galaxy Gadget: