Small hand-held detector for security, health threats

Published 28 October 2008

Researchers develop the world’s smallest detection system: The size of a shoe box, the complete mass spectrometer identifies tiny amounts of chemicals in the environment

Researchers in Indiana are describing development of the world’s smallest complete mass spectrometer (MS), a miniature version of a standard lab device — some of which would fill a living room — to identify tiny amounts of chemicals in the environment. The researchers say that the hand-held MS, about the size of a shoe box, could speed the detection of bioterrorism agents, hidden explosives, and other threats. Their study is scheduled for the current issue of ACSAnalytical Chemistry.

R. Graham Cooks, Zheng Ouyang, and colleagues note that scientists have developed several different versions of portable mass spectrometers over the past few decades. The problem was that the instruments’ large size, weight, and inability to analyze a wide variety of different target molecules have limited their practical use. The scientists responded to the need for a small but sensitive MS by developing the Mini 11. About the size of a small shoe box, it weighs only 9 pounds (half the weight of other portable MSs), and can be operated by remote control. Laboratory tests showed that the Mini 11 could accurately identify the chemical composition of three commonly used commercial drugs within just one minute using tandem mass spectrometry. Unlike previous portable mass specs, this new instrument is capable of analyzing a wider variety of molecules, including large proteins, the scientists say.

-read more in Liang Gao et al., “Design and Characterization of a Multisource Hand-Held Tandem Mass Spectrometer,” Analytical Chemistry 80, no. 19 (Web release date: 29 August 2008): 7198–205