Laboratory spectrometers are great lumbering beasts, essentially tied to the bench and useless for slipping into an overnight bag and heading off for a spot of analytical field work. Thankfully researchers are working on changing all that, at least in the area of atomic spectroscopy.
Holger Schmidt of the University of California, Santa Cruz and Aaron Hawkins at Brigham Young University and their colleagues have found a way to build an atomic absorption spectrometer on a chip just a few centimetres across. I report on their work in more detail in the latest issue of SpectroscopyNOW.
Schmidt told me that the new instrument could be used not only in gas sensors and other portable analytical devices but also to stabilize the frequency of lasers and even in the future world of quantum information processing, which will revolutionize computing and telecommunications.
“Frequency stabilization could be implemented within a couple of years,” he says, “while quantum communications applications are definitely further out, at least ten years, that work is in the fundamental science stage which makes it very exciting for us.”