Spectrometer on a Chip

Advanced “Lab on a Chip” – Scientists have created a powerful, ultra-thin spectrometer

On-chip spectrometer

An image of the spectrometer on a chip. Credit: State of Oregon

The tool opens the door to the widespread use of portable spectrometers.

Researchers in the field of optical spectrometry have created a better instrument for measuring light. This breakthrough could improve everything from smartphone cameras to environmental monitoring.

The research, led by Finland’s Aalto University, has developed a powerful and incredibly small spectrometer that fits on a microchip and is run by artificial intelligence. Their research was recently published in the journal Science.

The study used a relatively new class of ultra-thin materials known as two-dimensional semiconductors, and the result is proof of concept for a spectrometer that could be easily integrated into a number of technologies such as flat -forms of quality inspection, security sensors, biomedical analyzers and space telescopes.

“We have demonstrated a way to build spectrometers that are much more miniature than what is typically used today,” said Ethan Minot, a physics professor at Oregon State University College of Science who worked on the study. “Spectrometers measure the intensity of light at different wavelengths and are extremely useful in many industries and in all fields of science for identifying samples and characterizing materials.”

Minot said the new spectrometer could fit on the end of a human hair, unlike conventional spectrometers that require large optical and mechanical components. According to the new study, these components could be replaced by new semiconductor materials and artificial intelligence, allowing spectrometers to be drastically reduced in size compared to the smallest ones currently available, which are about the size of a grape. .

“Our spectrometer does not require the assembly of separate optical and mechanical components or array designs to disperse and filter the light,” said Hoon Hahn Yoon, who led the study with his Aalto University colleague Zhipei. Sun Yoon. “Furthermore, it can achieve high resolution comparable to benchtop systems, but in a much smaller package.”

The device is 100% electrically controllable when it comes to the colors of the light it absorbs, giving it huge potential for scalability and widespread use, the researchers say.

“Integrating it directly into portable devices such as smartphones and drones could advance our daily lives,” Yoon said. “Imagine that the next generation of our smartphone cameras could be hyperspectral cameras.”

These hyperspectral cameras could capture and analyze information not only from visible wavelengths, but also enable infrared imaging and analysis.

“It’s exciting that our spectrometer opens up possibilities for all kinds of new everyday gadgets and instruments to do new science as well,” Minot said.

In medicine, for example, spectrometers are already being tested for their ability to identify subtle changes in human tissue such as the difference between tumors and healthy tissue.

For environmental monitoring, Minot added, spectrometers can detect exactly what kind of pollution is in the air, water or soil, and how much.

“It would be nice to have low-cost handheld spectrometers that do this job for us,” he said. “And in the educational setting, hands-on teaching of science concepts would be more effective with compact, inexpensive spectrometers.”

Applications also abound for science enthusiasts, Minot said.

“If you like astronomy, you might be interested in measuring the spectrum of light you collect with your telescope and having that information identify a star or a planet,” he said. “If geology is your hobby, you can identify gemstones by measuring the spectrum of light they absorb.”

Minot believes that as work on two-dimensional semiconductors progresses, “we will quickly discover new ways to use their novel optical and electronic properties.” Research on 2D semiconductors has lasted only a dozen years, starting with the study of

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Reference: “Miniaturized spectrometers with a tunable van der Waals junction” by Hoon Hahn Yoon, Henry A. Fernandez, Fedor Nigmatulin, Weiwei Cai, Zongyin Yang, Hanxiao Cui, Faisal Ahmed, Xiaoqi Cui, Md Gius Uddin, Ethan D. Minot, Harri Lipsanen, Kwanpyo Kim, Pertti Hakonen, Tawfique Hasan and Zhipei Sun, 20 October 2022, Science.
DOI: 10.1126/science.add8544

The study was funded by the Academy of Finland. 

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