ORNL technology puts power of lab into the field

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., May 14, 2001 A point-and-shoot portable instrument to protect people and the environment is a product of some 20 years of research by the Department of Energys Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) scientist Tuan Vo-Dinh.

Whats unique about the instrument, which analyzes chemicals in just seconds, is that it is the first battery-operated portable device with tunable filters and performance comparable to that of laboratory-scale instruments. It uses Raman technology, employing a helium neon laser, acousto-optic tunable filters and a photo sensor to detect toxic chemicals, TNT, byproducts from explosives, drugs and hundreds of chemicals. The material can be in liquid or powder form.

Raman technology involves illuminating a sample with a laser beam and measuring the reflected light. The light shows the vibration energies, which are unique to each compound in the sample, and that information helps scientists identify the substance. Its a technology that, until the development of acousto-optic tunable filters, was impractical for use in the field.

An acousto-optic tunable filter is a solid-state optical bandpass filter that can be tuned to various wavelengths. Because the filter is solid-state and has no moving parts, it is rugged and ideal for this application.

"The recent development of acousto-optic tunable filters has made the use of Raman technology practical for applications in a variety of environments," Vo-Dinh said.

Operation of the instrument is simple, according to Vo-Dinh, who noted that he and colleagues designed it to be used by people with no special skills. The user merely points a probe at the substance to be tested and touches the start button on the touch-screen display. In 11 seconds, the prototype instrument, dubbed RAMiTS (RAMan Tunable Integrated Sensor), provides a spectral analysis. The final product will translate that into a readout identifying the chemical or compound.

Vo-Dinh, a group leader and corpor

Contact: Ron Walli
DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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