Is that pear ripe? Or will you be annoyed when you get home and discover that the one you bought is neither sweet nor juicy? And what about that meat? Does it contain too much water, which will make it turn tough when you cook it?
Complete with integrated diffraction grating, grating drive, position detector and optical gaps, the spectrometer is much more compact than those currently available in the market. © Fraunhofer IPMS
Buying the right food is often a question of sheer luck for consumers. But all that is set to change. In future, all you will need to do is hold your smartphone near the product in question, activate the corresponding app, choose the food type from the menu – e.g. “pear” – and straight away the device will make a recommendation: the fructose content of the pear is high, so buy it!
The application is based on a near infrared spectrometer which measures the amount of water, sugar, starch, fat and protein present in the products. The system “looks” several centimeters below the outer surface of the foodstuffs – which means it can detect, for instance, whether the core of an apple is already rotting. Thin packaging film is no problem for the device as it takes measurements straight through it.
But how does the device actually work? By shining a broad-bandwidth light on the item to be tested – for instance a piece of meat. Depending on the meat’s composition, it will reflect different wavelengths of light in the near infrared range with different intensities. The resulting spectrum tells scientists what amounts of which substances are present in the foodstuff.
Smaller than a sugar cube
The novel thing about this spectrometer is its size. With a volume of only 2.1 cc, it is 30 percent smaller than a sugar cube, and thus substantially more compact than its commercially available counterparts, which are around 350 times larger. Another advantage is that the devices are inexpensive to make and suitable for mass production. “We expect spectrometers to develop in the same way that digital cameras did,” says Dr. Heinrich Grüger, who manages the relevant business unit at the Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems IPMS in Dresden, where the system is being developed. “A camera that cost 500 euros ten years ago is far less capable than the ones you get virtually for free today in your cell phone.”
Spectrometers are usually manufactured by assembling individual components: The mirrors, optical gaps, grating and detector each have to be put in place individually and properly aligned. The IMPS researchers instead manufacture the individual gratings and optical gaps directly on silicon wafers. But that’s not all: The thin silicon wafers are large enough to hold the components of several hundred spectrometers, which means that hundreds of near infrared systems can be produced in one go. The scientists stack the wafers containing the integrated components on top of the ones bearing the optical components. They then align and bind the wafers, and isolate them to form individual spectrometers. This means the researchers do not need to position each component, but only the respective composite substrates. Another advantage of what is called Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS) technology is that the devices produced are much more robust than their handmade counterparts.
At the Sensor+Test tradeshow being held in Nuremberg from May 22 to 24, the IPMS research scientists will be exhibiting a prototype of the spectrometer (in Hall 12, Booth 202). The device could be ready for market launch in three to five years. The researchers are also working on creating a corresponding infrastructure. “We are developing intelligent algorithms that analyze the recorded spectrums immediately, compare them with the requirements and then advise the consumer whether or not to buy the item. This advice is based solely on quality features such as ripeness and water content. The system cannot carry out a microbiological or toxicological analysis.” Potential application areas for the spectrometers are not limited to foodstuffs: The device can also detect forgeries, for example, and can verify whether a product is made of high-quality original materials or whether it is a cheap fake. It can also reveal whether parts of a vehicle’s body have been repainted, as well as test the contents of drugs and cosmetic creams.
Dr. Heinrich Grüger | Fraunhofer Research News
Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation
20.05.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Polymerforschung IAP
“Electricity as a raw material” at ACHEMA 2018: Green energy for sustainable chemistry
16.05.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Umwelt-, Sicherheits- und Energietechnik UMSICHT
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...
A team led by Austrian experimental physicist Rainer Blatt has succeeded in characterizing the quantum entanglement of two spatially separated atoms by observing their light emission. This fundamental demonstration could lead to the development of highly sensitive optical gradiometers for the precise measurement of the gravitational field or the earth's magnetic field.
The age of quantum technology has long been heralded. Decades of research into the quantum world have led to the development of methods that make it possible...
Cardiovascular tissue engineering aims to treat heart disease with prostheses that grow and regenerate. Now, researchers from the University of Zurich, the Technical University Eindhoven and the Charité Berlin have successfully implanted regenerative heart valves, designed with the aid of computer simulations, into sheep for the first time.
Producing living tissue or organs based on human cells is one of the main research fields in regenerative medicine. Tissue engineering, which involves growing...
A team of scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg investigated optically-induced superconductivity in the alkali-doped fulleride K3C60under high external pressures. This study allowed, on one hand, to uniquely assess the nature of the transient state as a superconducting phase. In addition, it unveiled the possibility to induce superconductivity in K3C60 at temperatures far above the -170 degrees Celsius hypothesized previously, and rather all the way to room temperature. The paper by Cantaluppi et al has been published in Nature Physics.
Unlike ordinary metals, superconductors have the unique capability of transporting electrical currents without any loss. Nowadays, their technological...
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
18.05.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
18.05.2018 | Information Technology
18.05.2018 | Information Technology