Science News

Smells good to me

Sun, 7th Oct 2007

Scientists have come up with a sensitive new way to analyse the composition of almost any surface, including human skin.

Renato Zenobi and Huanwen Chen from ETH Zurich in Switzerland blow a stream of nitrogen across the surface under analysis and collect the gas together with any debris that it dislodges.  The material is then fed into a mass spectrometer that can pick apart the chemical composition of anything present on the surface.  Using the technique, say the researchers, they can even detect the difference in caffeine concentrations in an individual before and after a cup of coffee.  This means that the approach could be used to monitor drug levels, treatment compliance and address other important questions such as dissecting the chemical make-up of skin samples, plant tissue, frozen meat or other tissues.  Critically the process is entirely non-invasive and does not harm the surface under analysis.  So caffeine-heads, watch out, someone could be monitoring your dose quite soon!

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