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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Chemical bonds and crash test dummies
Cinema goers watching the latest Bond movie Casino Royale will have seen our hero undertaking a rapid online blood test a few minutes after being poisoned with digitalis. Unfortunately, such analysis is the stuff of fiction and detecting levels is still the domain of sophisticated chemical laboratories.
These days we tend to assume that provided enough money has been thrown at a particular problem, that a cheap, reliable and highly electronic solution will be found. Our feature article by Robert Bogue “Optical chemical sensors for industrial applications” (pp. 86-90) makes it clear that although a lot of money has been spent that we are still a long way off from having a universal chemical analysis system that can fit in a glove compartment.
The basic problem is that very specific tests are needed to check for specific chemicals. A complex array of reagents and light sources are needed to accurately isolate the chemicals that we are looking for. However, “Lab on a Chip” technologies are now able to incorporate complex fluid handling and growing combinations of optical analysis systems, together with capillary electrophoresis. All pretty fancy stuff.
The main application area for these devices at the moment is for toxin analysis of waste water and good progress is being made with pocket sized instruments. Unfortunately, they do not all come with an Aston Martin DBS attached.
Continuing our automotive and dare devil theme we also have a feature on crash test dummies, “Instrumentation Used in Vehicle Safety Testing at Millbrook Proving Ground Ltd” by Christine Connolly (pp. 91-98). These are now remarkably sophisticated with a complex array of accelerometers and load cells. These systems not only allow car manufacturers to ensure that they meet minimum standards but also enable the effects of design changes to be analysed.
Sensors give us the ability to measure – and what we can measure we can improve.
One common gripe that I have with sensor research in general is that often people spend a lot of time and even more money, working on complex problems while leaving seemingly simple problems on the shelf. Why, for example, has it taken us about 40 years from the development of a reliable ultrasonic distance sensor by Polaroid before such devices are making it into our cars as parking distance sensors? Why is it that we can measure miniscule pollutant gas levels, but it is still so very easy to burn the toast or cremate a pizza?
One of this journal's primary aims is to introduce a wide variety of sensing technology to our readers. These days people tend to specialize into quite narrow fields and an inevitable consequence of this is that they miss out on potential developments in other areas because they simply never appear on their “radar”. I believe that great opportunities are being passed over as we use tunnel vision to scan the horizon while we miss out on what is around us.