The rise of the minis
By Dr. Chris Petty
Thanks to the evolution of consumer-driven mobile technology, we’ve all become accustomed to accessing data and answers immediately. More subtly, advances in ergonomic design and user interface construction are driven by the need to put complex technologies in the hands of consumers, which has influenced the expectation that technology should provide answers at the push of a button. This consumer culture shift has contributed to a new wave of handheld analytical instrumentation. The “rise of the minis” has changed the course of the safety and security industry.
Within the past few decades there has been a strong demand for purpose-built and user-centric analytical tools. There will always be a need for lab analysis, but new fieldable technologies add capability – providing immediate actionable answers at the point of need. Today’s First Responders need a bucket full – or pocket full – of varietal technology to chose from. When arriving at a scene there are more questions than clues, and the right tools will help piece together the puzzle presented. Clandestine laboratories present a good example. Explosives lab? Meth lab? Science project gone wrong? Neither is clear to the naked eye. Tools at the scene enable Responders to quickly monitor the air for harmful airborne hazards then move through the room to conduct analysis on seen and unseen targets to discern elicit activity. This type of immediate situational awareness is key to reaction time and threat neutralization.
In the early 2000’s the first wave of minis were introduced by way of handheld Raman, Near Infrared (NIR) and Fourier Transfer (FTIR) devices. These disruptive technologies created a paradigm shift, enabling a new breadth of chemical analysis directly at the scene. No more waiting. Responders could now immediately rule out or confirm nefarious activity, clearing scenes in hours rather than days. This not only changed the way in which chemicals were analyzed; it redefined the capabilities of the non-technical user. Advanced technologies were now packaged in handheld form factors weighing less than five lbs. and performing specific jobs for users with higher priorities than knowing how analytical instruments work or what’s happening inside. They simply have a job to get done and need answers now. No PhD required.
Despite these breakthroughs, capability gaps still exist. No one technique alone can address the plethora of nefarious activity responders face today. The rise of common household materials used to manufacture new dangers. The diversion of industrial compounds for misuse. And concerns of actual chemical and biological agents getting into the wrong hands. For these reasons, Responders need even more information at the scene to prepare for the unexpected.
The toolkit needs more tools.
Until recently, mass spectrometry had yet to join the ranks of this handheld analytical revolution. Previous versions of this technique have been primarily limited to the lab due to its size and complexity of maintenance and operation. The sensitivity and selectivity of mass spec enables analysis down to the parts-per-billion level providing responders with broader analysis capabilities at trace levels. It has taken a new technique called high-pressure mass spectrometry (HPMS) to allow mass spectrometry to be used for truly handheld operation. HPMS is now powering mass spec tools that are handheld, battery operated and purpose-built for specific applications. The first product based on HPMS is M908 – the new mini. This is the latest tool enhancing capability for rich chemical analysis of materials from trace to bulk quantities in all phases of matter.
And there will be more minis to come. As advanced threats continue to surface industry works tirelessly to keep pace. New tools will continue to be smarter, more compact, and unambiguous. They will evolve with the threats of tomorrow. Together these mini-powerhouses will continue to arm first responders with the answers they need. All at the push of a button.
Dr. Chris Petty is a co-founder and VP of Business Development and Marketing with 908 Devices.