We so far have seen how the technology that we created influences our daily life. Applied science has brought in revolution in electronic industry. The electronic appliances that we stumble upon everyday has seen significant reduction in physical size. We like everything to be small, compact and lightweight so that it is portable. It is also interesting to learn how the technology impacts the life of scientists who invented and developed it.
Scientists use a variety of instruments in the laboratory for their experiments. The life of a scientist to a large extent is dependent on the working condition of the instruments in his laboratory. Oftentimes there are multiple users for the same instrument. As the components are delicate, the instruments must be well protected, should be long lasting and should be unaffected by mechanical force. So, the instruments started coming in smaller sizes to reduce lab space and in enclosed boxes to reduce damage caused by mishandlings or mishap.
Spectrometers are type of instruments that are widely used to analyze for example, amount of protein in meat, water in grain and iron in blood. What is all needed to learn about the sample is that the collected sample must be inserted into the enclosed instrument and the measurement is made without touching any its components while any control in parameters are achieved by the computer interface. This is all nice as long as the spectrometers work. But what if any of the components fail? The most affected are the research students who are supposed to be learning their instruments . But when the students have not seen the instruments inside out how are the problems going to be solved? Science is learnt through our senses by touching, feeling, smelling and seeing. Students fail to learn the analytical principles as they can’t understand the context or think critically if the components are hidden. My research life also is entirely dependent on the instruments. If any of the components in my instruments failed, my former supervisor used to say, this would the perfect opportunity to see how the component looks like inside.
Considering the shortcomings that the technology posed, Professor Scheeline at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign developed a spectrometer few months ago using cellphones reports Sciencedaily. In an optical spectrometer, white light shines on the sample solution. The sample absorbs certain wavelength and the remaining light is passed through a diffraction grating to spread out the light into different colors like a prism. The missing wavelengths are the ones absorbed by the sample and the sample properties can then be interpreted.
Prof. Scheeline used a LED operated by a 3V battery, the kind used by key fobes to remotely unlock a car as the light source. Diffraction gratings, cuvettes and sample repositories to hold the samples can be obtained from suppliers for a few cents each. The best part is that the cellphone camera that almost everystudent has, serves the purpose of detector to capture the image. The whole set up cost only about $3 if you already own a cellphone with a camera. He also wrote a program to transfer the images to a computer.
Now, the cellphones are not just meant for texting, talking and browsing but also to learn basic science. When the technology poses limitations we need to work back and use it to our advantage.
– Vijayalakshmi Kalyanaraman