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Coding and Computers Help Spot Methane, Explosives


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At top, a typical reading from a mass spectrometer; below, a reading from the new coded aperture.

Researchers at Duke University are using software to improve the performance of chemical-sniffing mass spectrometers.

Credit: Duke University News

Duke University researchers are using software to improve the performance of chemical-sniffing mass spectrometers, employing data analytics to demonstrate a technology using a "coded aperture," which could shrink the devices while maintaining their performance.

The researchers say the software could lead to portable mass spectrometers that could be used to detect environmental or safety hazards in the field.

The technology is similar to a device used to view solar eclipses, in which students poke a small hole in a piece of cardboard, which acts like a lens. The smaller the hole, the better the detail of the eclipse, but a smaller hole also makes it dimmer and harder to see, which is the challenge faced when scaling down a mass spectrometer.

The researchers overcame this issue by making many tiny holes to create an array of eclipses, and then using a program to reconstruct them into a single image with the sharpness of a tiny pinhole and the brightness of a large pinhole.

"Our group could do the fabrication of the microstructures, but we relied on engineering colleagues David Brady and Mike Gehm for the coding and computational aspects, and our colleagues at RTI International for the electronics," says Duke professor Jeff Glass.

From Duke University News
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