Since we learned yesterday that everyone's mobile phone will be a nuclear weapon detector in the future, it comes as no surprise today that scientists at the University of California have created what is, in effect, a Tricorder. They're calling it a much more modest name (Universal Detector), but the facts of the matter are clear: You'll be able to point this thing at other things and figure out what they're made of.
As if there was any doubt, the device would use nanotechnology to decipher what kinds of contaminants are present on any surface it scans.
The idea uses a thin layer of metal drilled with nanoscale holes, laid onto the surface being tested. When the perforated plate is zapped with laser light, the surface plasmons that form emit light with a frequency related to the materials touching the plate. A sensitive light detector is needed to measure the frequency of light given off.
Better still, the team, led by Kevin Tetz and members of the Ultrafast and Nanoscale Optics Group at the University of California, says the devices will be small and portable. They'll work on low power (green Tricorders!), and would work on a range of substances, from explosives to bacteria.
There's one tiny problem with the device, if you'll pardon the pun. In layman's, totally unscientific terms, the device spits out Spanish to a group of people who only speak English. In other words, the device, while sound in theory, needs a system that can decode the light signatures it produces. [New Scientist via Slashdot]