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4/27/2006
07:46 PM
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Brief: Biochip Can ID Illicit Drugs

The chip, still in the research stage, can differentiate cocaine and amphetamine from powders of potato starch, flour, and lactose.

A tiny biochip that can quickly identify illicit drugs including cocaine and amphetamines has been developed by a Taiwan research collaboration led by Professor Chi-Kuang Sun of the National Taiwan University.

The Optical Society of America (OSA) said Thursday that the Taiwan research will be presented at a meeting it will co-sponsor next month in Long Beach, Calif. Inside the biochip, a small transmitter beams electromagnetic radiation in the terahertz (THz) range – between the microwave and infrared ranges – to determine the distinctive chemical fingerprints of the powder being examined.

According to an OSA announcement, "the researchers were able to distinguish powders of cocaine and amphetamine from powders of potato starch, flour, and lactose. Only 2-5 seconds were required to finish each scan."

Another application in the emerging THz band that will be discussed at the Long Beach May 21-26 meeting involves terahertz imaging that can discriminate between materials like plastic explosives and fertilizer. Developed by David Zimdars of Picometrix, the application could have homeland security applications including airline screening of passengers and luggage, according to OSA.

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