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In general, handheld spectrometers are a more-convenient, mid-range spectroscopy option for analysis than bigger benchtop systems.
While handheld spectrometers all use the same basic principles, they are not the same, nor are the users of these devices. There are many manufacturers vying for a wide range of customers, one which only gets bigger with each improvement in technology or drop in price.
In addition to being smaller and faster than benchtop systems, handheld spectrometers now leverage considerable processing power and versatility, making them able to acquire and assess scientific information across many different fields. Processing power and connectivity are now the major drivers of spectroscopy into new applications.
As spectral resolution and the rate of data acquisition increases over time, the quantity of data that must be processed by a handheld spectrometer increases as well. Typically, these devices have the capability to contrast spectra using either internal or could-based reference libraries and identify target substances.
Many device manufacturers are now offering application-specific handheld spectrometers that focus on distinctive market segments and the materials relevant to those segments.
Prescription Drug Authentication
Handheld Raman and near-infrared (NIR) spectrometers are often used to test prescription medications and identify counterfeit drugs. Unlike some benchtop systems, handheld instruments don’t require the grinding up or pills. Instead, spectrometers transmit light at pills and a detector records the light that is sent back. The resulting spectra are compared to a library of reference spectra to ascertain the various qualities of a pill. Handheld Raman spectrometers are typically used to identify compounds specific to various legitimate pharmaceuticals.
NIR spectrometers, on the other hand, are usually used to look at physical qualities like tablet color and water content.
Illicit Drug Testing
Handheld Raman spectrometers are often used for the rapid identification of solid and liquid illicit drugs. Light, compact and with a built-in library of spectra for controlled substances that can be easily updated, handheld Raman spectrometers offer a non-contact and non-destructive test way to identify dozens of controlled substances. These devices provide authorities in the field with definitive results the identification of narcotics and other illegal substances.
Handheld FTIR spectrometers are used in heavy industry for a wide range of material science applications, like making certain that surfaces are free of impurities so that correct bonding of parts can be achieved, monitoring cleaning operations for a range of surfaces, establishing that multi-part coating systems have been correctly applied, gauging the degree of weathering on a sample and confirming the identity of parts.
FTIR spectrometers are so common in industry that those made by Agilent Technologies are specified in the Boeing 787 Service Repair Manual to gauge thermal damage on airframe materials.
Convenient and easy-to-use, handheld NIR spectrometers are typically used to supplement food analysis performed in laboratories. Handheld devices can test loos food items, as well as foods in clear plastic packages. The spectra produced by various samples can be analyzed against a reference library to determine the various compounds in a product, like sugar, water, and calorie content. Handheld spectrometers can also be used to look for the various markers of food quality.
While handheld NIR spectrometers can be used to test food for quality, handheld Raman spectrometers can use distinctive molecular fingerprints to confirm the authenticity of premium food products, like expensive Scotches.
Security and Military
Handheld spectrometers also allow for speedy security assessments at checkpoints, getting rid of lengthy and risky steps. For instance, airport security can check liquids carried onto aircraft quickly and with minimal confrontation.
Recent developments in handheld spectrometer technology could expand the technology to allow for detection through walls and other barriers in civilian and military situations involving dangerous chemicals.
Sources and Further Reading