Star Trek buffs will recollect how Mr. Spock would take a tricorder reading and furrow his brow? Creating fact out of fantasy, thanks to researchers at Purdue University who have invented a combination of two devices: one that sprays an object with ionized water vapor, and a miniaturized mass spectrometer, which detects substances. “The detection is done in an ion trap — an RF device that traps ions, then lets them out on the basis of their masses, enabling you to be exactly sure what compound you are sensing,” says R. Graham Cooks, a professor at Pursue’s College of Science. This 20-pound device performs the ionization step in the air or on surfaces, therefore more to use than the 300-pound spectrometers used in airports. It incorporates an onboard Windows-based PC that stores the results on its hard drive. This new invention is to be used to detecting salmonella in food, disease markers in urine, and cocaine on a rolled-up bill.
Wah Ming Chang, who also sculpted the phaser, designed the original Star Trek tricorder prop. Gene Roddenberry went out of his way to allow any company designing a working tricorder to use the name. Two Indiana based companies’ plan to market it.