Australian physicists have recreated a function of Doctor Who's sonic screwdriver

ANU researchers Marcus Doherty and Michael Barson. Image: ANU

Australian scientists have designed a handheld device which combines some of the functions of the fictional sonic screwdriver in the Doctor Who television series and the tricorder of Star Trek fame.

The researchers have proven the concept of a diamond-based quantum device and physicists are now building a prototype using MRI and mass spectrometry to perform a chemical analysis of objects.

The sonic screwdriver is a tool used by Doctor Who to scan and identify matter, among other functions, while the multi-purpose tricorder in Star Trek can provide a detailed analysis of living things.

“Laboratories and hospitals will have the power to do full chemical analyses to solve complex problems with our device that they can afford and move around easily,” says lead researcher Dr Marcus Doherty from the Australian National University (ANU).

“This device is going to enable many people to use powerful instruments like molecular MRI machines and mass spectrometers much more readily.”

Here’s the research explained:

The research is published in the journal Nano Letters.

Medical researchers will be able to use the device to weigh and identify complex molecules such as proteins, which drive diseases, such as cancer, and cures for those diseases.

“Every great advance for microscopy has driven scientific revolution,” says Doherty. “Our invention will help to solve many complex problems in a wide range of areas, including medical, environmental and biosecurity research.”

Molecular MRI is a form of the medical imaging technology that is capable of identifying the chemical composition of individual molecules, while mass spectrometers measure the masses within a sample.

The device uses tiny defects in a diamond to measure the mass and chemical composition of molecules with advanced quantum techniques borrowed from atomic clocks and gravitational wave detectors.

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