Tiny spectrometer with big future

Share this on social media:

Determining whether a white powder is illegal or innocent has long been a problem in police raids. Now, a portable IR spectrometer, developed at the Chemnitz branch of the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration, will allow officers to identify suspicious substances on the scene of the crime.


The spectrometer, developed with Chemnitz University and Colour Control Farbmesstechnik GmbH, could also find uses in pharmaceutical labs to monitor drug processes at any part of the production line. Most spectrometers are large and expensive, but this development is part of a trend of smaller, portable spectrometers.


‘It’s about a quarter of the cost of conventional spectrometers,’ said Dr Thomas Otto, deputy head of department at the Fraunhofer Institute in Chemnitz. The spectrometer is roughly the size of a packet of soap, making it small enough to be carried by officers on the beat. Comparable portable devices have been the size of small suitcases.


The spectrometer’s design rests on a movable micro-mirror that replaces two larger hollow mirrors to precisely deflect the infrared radiation in various directions. The mirror is coated with chromium and gold to reflect more than 98 per cent of the light.


Another potential application includes solar cell production, where it would be used in conjunction with an ellipsometer to determine the thickness of its different coatings.