New Sensor Has An ‘eye’ For Liquids

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Aug. 3 (UPI) — Researchers at Harvard University say they have developed a new hand-held device that can quickly and accurately identify any unknown liquid.

Scientists at the university’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences used the chemical and optical properties of precisely nanostructured materials to identify liquids by their surface tension, a Harvard release said Wednesday.

The sensor changes color when it encounters a liquid with a particular surface tension.

The device does not need a power source and can mean cheap, fast, and portable quality control tests and identification of liquid contaminants in the field, the researchers said.

“Digital encryption and sensors have become extremely sophisticated these days, but this is a tool that will work anywhere, without extra equipment, and with a very wide range of potential applications,” Marko Loncar, a professor of electrical engineering, said.

Example uses of the detector could be verifying the fuel grade of gasoline or testing suspected bootleg liquor for toxic levels of methanol, the Harvard release said.

It could also identify liquids that aren’t what they’re claimed to be.

“If you want to detect forgeries,” researcher Ian Burgess said, “you can tune your sensor to be acutely sensitive to one specific formulation, and then anything that’s different stands out, regardless of the composition.”

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