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Science fiction blurs the lines between fact and fantasy, creating a world often just out of our reach—until now.
Inspired by Doctor Who and Star Trek, physicists at the Australian National University (ANU) designed a handheld gadget to perform chemical analysis of objects.
Researchers Marcus Doherty and Michael Barson based their concept on the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver and Starfleet’s tricorder—both used to scan and identify matter and record data.
In this case, the prototype uses tiny defects in a diamond to “measure the mass and chemical composition of molecules with advanced quantum techniques,” according to ANU.
“Laboratories and hospitals will have the power to do full chemical analyses to solve complex problems with our device that they can afford and move around easily,” Doherty, from the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering, said in a statement.
“This device is going to enable many people to use powerful instruments like molecular MRI machines and mass spectrometers much more readily,” he added.
Their process, as described in the video above, crams two powerful instruments—MRI machine and mass spectrometer—onto one chip, removing the barrier to access and making it easier to mass-produce.
A multifunctional fictional tool, the sonic screwdriver made its debut in 1968 in the Second Doctor’s “Fury from the Deep” serial; it was popularized by the Third and Fourth Doctors, and eventually written out of the show in 1982.
After a cameo in the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie, the gizmo made a full return in the 2005 revamp. The Twelfth Doctor briefly replaced the hand-held gadget with a pair of (dopey) sonic glasses, but was gifted a new screwdriver from the TARDIS.
Any true Whovian owns a plastic model of their favorite Doctor’s sonic model (and occasionally wields it in a moment of frenzy). But ANU’s diamond-based quantum device may actually save lives.
“Our invention will help solve many complex problems in a wide range of areas, including medical, environmental, and biosecurity research,” according to Doherty.
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