Manufacturing Bits: March 14

Sonic screwdrivers and tricorders; magnetic moments.

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Sonic screwdrivers and tricorders
Inspired by two famous TV shows, the Australian National University (ANU) has developed a futuristic handheld device that combines molecular MRI and mass spectrometry for use in chemical analysis of objects.

The device was inspired by the sonic screwdriver from Doctor Who and the tricorder from Star Trek. The sonic screwdriver is a tool used in Doctor Who, a British science fiction TV show. Using various sound waves and related techniques, the sonic screwdriver could hack, disable and activate any system.

2016 version of the Sonic Screwdriver toy, which is made by Character Options. (Source: Wikipedia)

Replica of the Sonic Screwdriver, a toy made by Character Options. (Source: Wikipedia)

In the TV series Star Trek, a tricorder is a multi-function hand-held device. It is used for scanning and data analysis.

Replica of Star Trek’s tricorder (Source: Kirin Hobby)

Replica of Star Trek’s tricorder (Source: Kirin Hobby)

ANU has devised a system that performs a few, but not all of those functions. It performs molecular MRI, a form of medical imaging technology. Molecular MRI is capable of identifying the composition of individual molecules. It is also a mass spectrometer, which measure the masses in a sample.

For this, ANU researchers combined two technologies–nanomechanical sensors and quantum nanosensors. Nanomechanical sensors enable chip-scale mass spectrometry. Quantum nanosensors use the electron spins of nitrogen-vacancy centers in diamonds. They have demonstrated the ability to handle single-molecule MRI.

ANU’s handheld device could be used to weigh and identify complex molecules. “Our invention will help to solve many complex problems in a wide range of areas, including medical, environmental and biosecurity research,” said Marcus Doherty, a researcher from ANU.

Magnetic moments
The University of Iowa have devised a new type of magnetometer, a technology that detects and measures materials that have weak or no magnetic signals.

A magnetometer is an instrument that measures magnetism. The magnetometer from the University of Iowa detects the response of magnetic materials in semiconductors and other products. For example, it can measure the thickness of layers with better than 0.1 angstrom accuracy.

Many magnetometers use scanning probe techniques. In this system, a sample perturbs the scanning probe via a magnetic field.

In contrast, Iowa’s technology is based on a sampling approach called “nitrogen-vacancy center magnetometry.” With this, “the perturbation is reversed: the probe’s magnetic field generates a response of the sample, which acts back on the probe and changes its energy,” according to researchers from the University of Iowa.

The magnetometer does this by creating “magnetic moments” in materials. Magnetic moments occur when a group of electrons orient themselves in the same direction. This, in turn, creates a magnetic field.

The proposed probe stimulates magnetic moments (aligned electrons) in the material being studied. (Image courtesy of Michael Flatté)

The proposed probe stimulates magnetic moments (aligned electrons) in the material being studied. (Image courtesy of Michael Flatté)

“This approach is designed to measure the situation where if you didn’t have the probe nearby, you’d see nothing. There wouldn’t be any magnetic fields at all,” says Michael Flatté, physics and astronomy professor at the University of Iowa. “It’s only the probe itself that’s causing the presence of the magnetic fields.”

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