A new portable laser technology could help investigators and first responders identify unknown white powders from safe distance.
According to Heriot-Watt University scientists, white powders have a unique ‘fingerprint’ and this allows the laser technology to identify them instantly.
White powders found at known or potential crime scenes present investigators and first responders with a dilemma.
Touching the powders could be dangerous or compromise the evidence, and sending samples to a lab to be identified could take too long.
Now thanks to Professor Derryck Reid and his team, the newly developed infrared laser system can identify no less than 11 white powder samples continuously from up to one meter away.
“The instant, accurate identification of white powders could be useful in a range of scenarios, such as detecting counterfeit pharmaceuticals, conducting foodstuff analysis or identifying hazardous material like explosive residue,” intones Reid.
“We made use of the concept that white powders have a color ‘fingerprint’ that can be seen using a process known as spectrometry.”
“The powders have different chemical bonds and this affects how they absorb light. By analyzing the contrast between the infrared light we beam at the powders, compared to what colors come back, we can identify individual chemicals and compounds.”
Reid contends that the technology is an obvious application for narcotics detection:
We know that there is an appetite for portable crime scene technology that can reduce the risks faced by personnel, while providing accurate and instant results.”
The laser technology was recently commercialized by Heriot-Watt spinout, Chromacity Ltd.
The company has already miniaturized the laser system used in the experiment, meaning first responders and other users could have cutting edge laser technology in a package the size of a large briefcase.