Researchers at the University of Edinburgh, working with the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), have pioneered a new chemical substance analysis software technique that could play a significant role in boosting current homeland security measures and illicit substance detection.

Ideally suited for portable hand-held spectroscopy devices, the system provides efficient, real-time analysis and identification of complex chemical mixtures using new Raman spectral decomposition techniques.

This approach, which is technology agnostic, can handle large spectral databases to accurately pinpoint mixtures of chemical substances. Samples composed of a mixture of different chemicals provide a much greater detection challenge than pure materials, which are typically used in laboratory studies but not representative of real world samples.

This new functionality is computationally efficient enough to be implemented on hand-held Raman spectrometers, providing a portable, sensitive, non-invasive approach for chemical substance analysis.

The University of Edinburgh’s commercialisation arm, Edinburgh Research & Innovation (ERI), is now seeking to license this technology to industry partners who wish to deploy it as part of a commercial hardware solution.

Mike Davies, Professor of Signal and Image Processing at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Engineering comments; “Inputting a set of reference spectra and an unknown mixture yields the identity of the mixture elements and also their contribution percentages. It also has the capability of identifying the presence of a spectral component outside the reference library. As such, it is a particularly powerful tool.”

Performance has been successfully demonstrated in the identification of real mixtures in different measurement scenarios, including where component spectra are close to the device’s noise level.

Rhea Clewes, Senior Scientist in Chemical Sensing, Dstl, comments; “This novel software will allow us to accurately identify small amounts of hazardous chemicals much more quickly than before. This technology agnostic development allows a range of different signals to be separated, including analytical approaches beyond Raman spectroscopy."

Angus Stewart-Liddon, ERI’s Licensing Executive, said; “This software has the ability to transform portable chemical analysis capability in the field and give instant results to the composition of chemical mixtures. It adds exceptional functionality to a hand held spectroscopy device and its application, particularly for the security industry where rapid chemical analysis of potential hazardous materials, cannot be over-estimated.”

Further information on the software is available on the ERI website:

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