Putting A 'third Eye' In Our Pockets

By Xing Yi | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-09-01 11:32

Imagine you're trying to know if the apple you bought two weeks ago is still good.

Now, imagine you can scan it with your phone and it'll tell you.

Tsinghua University professor Bao Jie has developed a small spectrometer that can literally identify bad apples in the bunch.

It can also diagnose skin disease and detect air pollution, among other functions.

Spectrometers measure changes in light when it interacts with matter in ways that detect more than the naked eye. They've long been used in research, but their size had previously hampered their applications for daily use.

Bao's team developed one as small as a coin. It may cost only a few dollars once mass produced.

"Everyone will have a 'third eye' to see hidden realities," the 34-year-old scientist says.

They were able to shrink the device using quantum-dot nanotechnology.

Quantum dots, which were discovered in the early 1980s, are semiconductor crystals that are just a few nanometers in size. They absorb different light wavelengths when their size changes.

Bao got the idea of using this feature to create miniature spectrometers when he was doing post-doctoral research with Moungi Bawendi at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States from 2010 to 2013.

"Bawendi is one of the leading researchers of quantum dots, but he hadn't looked into such applications before," Bao says. "So I proposed my idea. He supported it."

Before he went to MIT, Bao earned a bachelor's degree at Tsinghua University and his doctorate in chemistry at Brown University between 2006 to 2010.

He returned to Tsinghua in 2014 through the country's Young Thousand Talents program that recruits young experts from overseas.

The research paper Bao and Bawendi co-authored was published by the academic journal Nature in July 2015.

"Most current microspectrometers rely on interference filters and interferometric optics that limit their photon efficiency, resolution and spectral range," the editor's note reads.

"Jie Bao and Moungi Bawendi have developed an efficient, cost-effective microspectrometer that overcomes many of these limitations ... and points to possible application in space exploration, surgical and clinical 'lab-on-a-chip' settings."

"I am not satisfied with going from zero to one," Bao says. "I want to do things from zero to 99. There's always room for improvement."

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