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Things I Want to See

Photonics Spectra
Jan 2009
Photonics has changed the way we look at the world. It influences the way research is done, how we think about vision and even the routines of our daily lives. We at Photonics Spectra feel that the industry could go even further than it has, however, and our editors have created a list of things we would love to see invented.


 
Krista_chairlift.jpgAlpine “eyes”

by Krista D. Zanolli, News Editor, krista.zanolli@laurin.com

As an avid alpine skier and former instructor, I know that one of the golden rules of skiing is this: You are responsible for the skier in front of you. Unfortunately,not everyone follows the rules and that, coupled with a lack of skill and experience, can make for a dangerous situation. So, to avoid such accidents as on-hill collisions, I suggest embedding sensors in helmets that can measure the change in speed and proximity of oncoming skiers. With these new sensors, your mother won't be the only one with eyes in the back of her head.


 
iStock_2083988Med2.jpgWhole-body experience

by Judith E. Storie, Copy Editor, judy.storie@laurin.com

Anyone who has ever lost a relative or friend to cancer knows the “what if” feeling. “What if the tumor had been caught early on?” I would like to see a whole-body imager in hospitals that can see EVERYTHING in the body, especially tumors in the very earliest stages of developing genetic mutations.


 
Beam-me-up-david.jpgBeam me up, Scotty

by David L. Shenkenberg, Features Editor, david.shenkenberg@laurin.com

You might be surprised to learn that scientists have done some work on making teleportation a reality. Teleportation of single photons, coherent light fields, nuclear spins and trapped atoms has been demonstrated. Although in the immediate future they probably won’t be able to teleport people or other large objects such as in Star Trek, one can always hope.



laundry_iStock_5367811Med.jpgLaundry list

by Caren B. Les, News Editor, caren.les@laurin.com

Machine vision can identify multiple parts and guide high-tech robots … but can it do laundry? Why couldn’t machine vision be used to sort clothes by fabric and color, and then another type of sensor technology could be used to process them so that they would retain their original size, shape and color after coming out of just one machine (not two). Do I ask for too much? Engineers, can you help?
 

snow_iStock_7864243Med.jpgSnow be gone

by Anne L. Fischer, Senior Editor, anne.fischer@laurin.com

I’d like to see an infrared-heated driveway. Sensors could be placed in the asphalt or coating to monitor temperature and humidity, sensing when snow or freezing precipitation begins. They’d trigger devices that would begin to heat the driveway before the nasty wintry muck hits the pavement, causing it to melt and dry on contact. And while you’re at it, how about a similar design for a deck or patio?



appetizers_iStock_7077196Med.jpgWorry-free dining

by Laura Marshall, Features Editor, laura.marshall@laurin.com

As a vegan and a worrywart, I can’t help wondering every time I eat out whether the chef has accidentally added some dairy, egg or even meat to my meal. It happens, even when I clearly request special orders – perhaps because I clearly request special orders. But if I could zap my food with a portable sensor to make sure it is safe, I’d feel more secure – and so would people who have severe allergies to dairy, nuts or other foods.

Near-infrared spectroscopy already is used in the food industry because it can determine the concentration of protein, fat, carbohydrates and water in a given food item; plus, it’s fast and noninvasive. An NIR sensor would be able to detect allergens based on their known proportions of those four constituents. I would choose NIR because of its speed and portability, but it seems to me that Raman spectroscopy might be similarly applied to study the compounds on the plate.

If an eatery promised soy yogurt and fresh fruit, my sensor could tell me, based on the protein content, if the white stuff in my bowl really is dairy-free.



iStock_7249415Med.jpgA spectrometer in every kitchen

by Lynn Savage, Features Editor, lynn.savage@laurin.com

Food should sustain us, and it should please us. It shouldn’t frighten us. Yet just in the past year, foodstuffs from spinach to baby formula have threatened lives and scared people who must be able to trust their food sources. Today, consumers look to food producers and distributors, as well as to government organizations such as the FDA, to assure that domestic and imported foods are safe to eat. Tomorrow, people should have the power to make their own assurances.

I would like to see – and I believe we will one day – spectrometers designed and built for the consumer market. I imagine a device that sits on a kitchen counter or is mounted beneath a cabinet. When you want to know more about the contents of that jar of salsa, that head of lettuce or that brick of artisanal beurre your Aunt Dolores brought back from her trip to Canada (it looks like butter …), you place it under the gaze of the spectrometer’s optics and get back a reading in simple English that tells you what the ingredients are and whether anything (microbe, bacterium, melamine, etc.) unpleasant has taken up residence therein.

It’s a matter of market demand and economies of scale, but someday I expect to see a representative from Ocean Optics hawking the “Jaz FoodMaster” on QVC, or Oprah Winfrey giving away Thermo Fisher Scientific’s “Nicolet@Home” to her audience members en masse.

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