Chinese scientists have developed a portable drug detector that improves testing speeds from up to several days to a mere three seconds.
Developed by the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in collaboration with the Yunnan Police College and the Ministry of Public Security, the state-of-the-art mass spectrometer is a 13-kilogram (28.7-pound) device measuring 32 centimeters (12.6 inches) long, 32 centimeters (12.6 inches) wide and 24 centimeters (9.45 inches) tall.
According to the scientists, 10 kinds of mixing drugs with a boiling point difference of 300 degrees Celsius (572 degrees Fahrenheit) can be simultaneously identified in three seconds under a single analysis, Xinhua reported.
So far, the device has successfully identified 37 kinds of drugs in onsite tests carried out in Yunnan province, southwestern China.
A needle nearly invisible to the naked eye collects the sample from an individual’s personal belongings, which is then analyzed in a machine about the size of a home printer.
The device is capable of detecting drugs in quantities as little as 50 picograms — with 1 picogram equivalent to one trillionth of a gram — CCTV reported.
Li Haiyang, a researcher from the Dalian Institute who led the development of the detector, believes that the days of drug trafficking networks around the world will soon be over.
“The detector can change the war on drugs,” he said, adding that perpetrators will “feel a pinch,” according to the South China Morning Post.
In mainland China, drug trafficking can result in the death penalty, which can be executed via lethal injection or firing squad.
In Yunnan, authorities seized drugs such as fentanyl, marijuana and opium across several cities, including Baoshan, Dehong, Mojiang, Tengchong and Yuxi.
The detector, which runs on a rechargeable lithium battery, uses a special flashlight that generates a temperature of up to 500 degrees Celsius (932 Fahrenheit) in 2.5 seconds to vaporize the sample.
According to Li, the research team took five years to determine the optimal range of light frequencies that would effectively heat substances with different melting points without damaging them.
The detector’s sensitivity means any individual who has made contact with drugs is bound to alert authorities. Apparently, it is expected to become standard on public transport.
“Mass production is on the way. We are working with several companies, and large-scale deployment is possible in a few years,” Li said.
A paper detailing the development of the detector, titled “Rapid Screening of Trace Volatile and Nonvolatile Illegal Drugs by Miniature Ion Trap Mass Spectrometry: Synchronized Flash-Thermal-Desorption Purging and Ion Injection,” was published in the journal Analytical Chemistry.