WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., July 23 -- Researchers needing detailed chemical analyses of a material or mixture will no longer have to send or carry samples to a specialized laboratory due to a new, portable instrument developed by Purdue University chemists. The instrument is a Raman imaging microscope, or PRIM, which will allow researchers to analyze the chemical content of a wide variety of materials in the field -- whether it's a laboratory, classroom, doctor's office or farm field. The microscope is designed for advanced materials diagnostics. It uses laser light to read the distribution of chemicals present in a sample in real time, providing a detailed chemical analysis in seconds. "What makes this instrument unique is that it is portable," says Dor Ben-Amotz, professor of chemistry and PRIM co-creator. "It will allow us to take chemical imaging techniques to places we could not take them before, and it can be used in a variety of environments." In addition, the new instrument allows a sample to be directly viewed while it is being tested, similar to looking at a sample under a microscope. "This instrument serves as a sort of hybrid of commercial chemical-analysis instruments and conventional microscopes," Ben-Amotz says. "Many people want to put something under a microscope to see it in detail. Now, we're adding to that process the ability to chemically identify the components in a sample." Although a number of Raman microscopes currently on the market can be used to identify chemical components in a sample, they require placing the sample on a stage for alignment and focus. PRIM can be used to study samples that cannot be placed on a microscope stage, because they are too large, immobile or otherwise constrained, such as mixtures in a vat, Ben-Amotz says. It also may be used to collect data through glass or plastic packaging, a process that may be useful when working with hazardous materials.