Scots scientists develop software to identify hazardous chemicals

Scottish scientists have developed a software technique for detecting hazardous chemicals which could boost homeland security and illicit substance detection.

Scientists developed the software at the University of Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow
Scientists developed the software at the University of Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have pioneered software which instantly analyses the breakdown of complex chemical mixtures.

A security officer with a handheld device known as a Raman spectrometer can point a laser at a suspicious package or substance, which then measures reflected light and beams it to a computer, giving a reading .

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The new software then translates this to give an accurate description of all the chemicals used.

Previous software was only able to identify a single chemical at a time.

Mike Davies, professor of signal and image processing at the university’s school of engineering, said that the technique could be used to detect chemicals used in improvised explosives or for giving accurate analysis of substances used in counterfeit drugs.

“It is a particularly powerful tool. These devices shine a light from a metre away and our software analysis gives the chemical composition of the material. In effect they do away with ‘wet chemistry’.

Professor Davies’ team worked with the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory to develop the non-invasive technique which identifies chemicals from a large database.

The university’s commercialisation arm, Edinburgh Research & Innovation, now wants to licence the new technology to industry partners who would like to use it for their commercial hardware.

Angus Stewart-Liddon, ERI’s licensing executive, said; “This software has the ability to transform portable chemical analysis capability in the field and give instant results to the composition of chemical mixtures.

“It adds exceptional functionality to a handheld spectroscopy device and its application, particularly for the security industry where rapid chemical analysis of potential hazardous materials, cannot be overestimated.”