Apr 6, 2018 | By David

3D scanning technology is having an increasingly large impact on all kinds of fields, from quality control and product inspection to forensics and pharmaceutical research. A recent breakthrough by researchers at the American Chemical Society could go some way towards improving the technique of mass spectrometry, by using 3D scanning to remove one of its main limitations. The team developed a way to effectively test irregular surfaces and objects, making use of 3D scanning and a force-sensing robotic arm, used in combination with a chemical probe.

(source: Phys.org)

Mass spectrometry is a method of identifying the different chemical components that make up a particular sample. It is used in chemical research in laboratories as well as drug screenings and crime scene analysis. One of the issues with the technique is that it is difficult to use on irregular or bulky objects, as the automated systems need more manual intervention to track the curves and folds of surfaces that are not geometrically regular, flat, or smooth.

(source: wikipedia)

A research team lead by Facundo M. Fernándeza previously developed a proof-of concept study, which showed that a 3D infrared camera could be used to direct a robotic arm. This would allow for the collection of samples for plasma ionization MS analysis, but only certain types of molecules could be studied with the method. Their new research expanded the scope of the study, enabling further possibilities for direct surface sampling of irregular objects.

 The method is known as robotic surface analysis, and it uses a 3D scanner in conjunction with robotics and chemistry equipment to optimize the mass spectrometry process. A custom-built 3D laser scanner is attached to a force-sensing robotic arm. This arm has 360 degrees of possible rotation and 6 different joints to enable movement, and it is capable of traversing the whole surface of an object with speed and accuracy. The 3D scanner on the arm gradually builds up a digital image of the sample’s surface, and this is used as a map in order to direct a spring-loaded chemical sampling probe.

This probe briefly makes contact with specific areas of the object, gathering trace amounts of material as a sample in order to be tested. Once the sample is gathered, the probe is then directed towards a sampling interface, which is coupled to an electrospray ionization mass spectrometer. This device can analyze a wide range of samples and determine their chemical constituents.

In this way, researchers are capable of using 3D scanning technology to perform mass spectrometry on a wide range of irregular objects and non-planar surfaces. The method was tested out initially on the surface of a plastic coffee cup, detecting traces of caffeine, as well as being used to pinpoint the locations of pesticide residue on a small football.

The success of the trial suggests that it could have many more practical applications in the near future. The minimal degree of human intervention required is unprecedented for this type of procedure, and the innovative new technique could soon have a serious impact on the field of chemical analysis.



Posted in 3D Technology



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