Check air and water quality with a smartphone

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In the future it may be possible to check the quality of the air and water samples with your smartphone. The Fraunhofer Institute for Electronic Nano Systems ENAS developed a mini spectrometer that weighs only 1 gram and can be built into smartphones.

Spectrometer for less than 1 euro

At the moment infrared spectrometers are still relatively large and expensive. They usually weigh several kilograms and the production costs run into the thousands of euros. The inventors expect the newly developed mini spectrometer to be made for less than 1 euro. And the applications already mentioned – checking air and water quality – are just two of the many possible applications.

According to the inventors, the mini spectrometer can soon also be used to recognize counterfeit medicines. A phenomenon that has increasingly cropped up in recent years with the advent of online pharmacies, where you can order medication.

Light beams within infrared range

Like conventional infrared spectrometers, the mini spectrometer uses light beams within the infrared range. The light of different wavelengths is then fragmented using an adjustable filter and guided to a detector by means of integrated waveguides. The light that is reflected is then bundled and analyzed to determine which components were found in the monitored sample.

Simple and intuitive controls

In order to be able to integrate the mini spectrometer in smartphones, only the size and weight must be important. The operation of the spectrometer should be simple and intuitive. An initial concept based on self-learning algorithms has already been developed for this purpose.

Ultimately, the spectrometer must be started up via a special app and then held over the sample to be tested. The app indicates step by step which actions must be performed during the measurement process. After the test, the result is simply shown in the app. In the case of checking a possible counterfeit medication, for example, ‘original medication’ or ‘counterfeit medication’ will be displayed.

The researchers have already produced the first mini spectrometer chips and delivered them as proof of concept. In the coming period, these will be tested in depth to answer questions such as: Do the individual components move as we want? Is the light coupled in the waveguide passing through as it should? Depending on the results of these studies, the mini spectrometer could be launched on the market within approximately two years.

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