Ground-breaking software enables detection of hazardous chemicals in complex mixtures

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Researchers at the University of Edinburgh, working with the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), have created a chemical substance analysis software technique that they say could play a significant role in boosting security measures and illicit substance detection.

Suited for portable hand-held spectroscopy devices, the system is claimed to provide efficient, real-time analysis and identification of complex chemical mixtures using Raman spectral decomposition techniques.

This approach, which is technology agnostic, can handle large spectral databases to accurately pinpoint mixtures of chemical substances. Samples composed of a mixture of different chemicals are said to provide a greater detection challenge than pure materials, which are typically used in laboratory studies but not representative of real world samples.

This new functionality is computationally efficient enough to be implemented on hand-held Raman spectrometers, providing a portable, sensitive, non-invasive approach for chemical substance analysis.

The University of Edinburgh’s commercialisation arm, Edinburgh Research & Innovation (ERI), is now seeking to license this technology to industry partners who wish to deploy it as part of a commercial hardware solution.

Mike Davies, professor of signal and image processing at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Engineering said: “Inputting a set of reference spectra and an unknown mixture yields the identity of the mixture elements and also their contribution percentages. It also has the capability of identifying the presence of a spectral component outside the reference library. As such it is a particularly powerful tool.”

Performance has been successfully demonstrated in the identification of real mixtures in different measurement scenarios, including where component spectra are close to the device’s noise level.

Rhea Clewes, senior scientist in chemical sensing, Dstl, added: “This software will allow us to accurately identify small amounts of hazardous chemicals much more quickly than before. This technology agnostic development allows a range of different signals to be separated, including analytical approaches beyond Raman spectroscopy.”