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  • Carbon-detecting Laser
Jul 2008
NEWARK, N.J., July 2, 2008 – Acquiring carbon offsets is an essential component for reducing global warming. As more organizations and businesses start trading in carbon offsets, the need for accurate measurement of carbon emissions becomes increasingly important.

A new ultra-sensitive laser-assisted ratio analyzer (LARA) is capable of measuring even slight changes in carbon 14 (C-14), an isotope of carbon.

Developed by Dr. Daniel Murnick, professor of physics at Rutgers University, along with research associate Ozgur Dogru and graduate student Erhan Ilkmen, the technology measures small changes in C-14, which better determines how much carbon dioxide is being released into the atmosphere.

Currently, measuring such small changes in C-14 requires using an accelerator mass spectrometer (AMS), which is expansive in size and requires a sample size of at least a milligram. The ultra-sensitive LARA spectrometer, developed by Murnick and his team, fits on a laboratory bench, is easier to operate and can measure samples as small as a tenth of a milligram.

There are several applications for which the LARA can be used. For example, because C-14 makes up such a small part of the atmosphere, it is an ideal indicator for monitoring carbon emissions. By measuring tiny changes in its presence, it is possible to determine how much carbon dioxide is coming from fossil fuels and its storage time in the environment, explains Murnick.

This laser spectrometer can also be used to measure C-14 for drug analysis. C-14 is used in the early stages of drug development to determine how a drug is metabolized in the body, where it goes and whether it breaks down before it can be effective.

Because it can  measure such small samples, the LARA also makes microdosing possible in the drug development process. Microdosing allows for fewer C-14 tracers and smaller drug doses while still allowing individual response to be determined.

“Due to the expense and complexity of AMS technology, it is not often used at present,” explains Murnick. “What we have invented is a way to make high sensitivity measurements with small sample sizes routine in the drug development process.”

Along with its potential applications in drug testing and environmental monitoring, the spectrometer can also be used in carbon dating. In carbon dating, the age of organic remains is determined by measuring the amount of C-14 remaining since the death of the organism. Current techniques, however, require a relatively significant sample size to date them.

“In archeology, the finds are often very small samples and sometimes too small to allow for traditional carbon dating,” says Murnick. “Our equipment can eliminate that problem. We also hope to eventually miniaturize the equipment so it can be used on site.”

Rutgers has applied for a patent for the LARA technology. Rutgers currently holds 12 patents for technology developed by Murnick, including laser-based equipment he has developed for detecting C-13. Included among those inventions is a laser-assisted ratio analyzer breath test system that detects the bacterium that causes most stomach and intestinal ulcers, which was presented with a Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award by the Research and Development Council of New Jersey.

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