Portable Molecular Spectroscopy

The countdown to PITTCON has begun! With the big event only a few days away, our analysts have come together to share some exciting industry insights from our Strategic Directions International division’s 2018 Global Assessment Report, the gold standard in market research for the analytical and life science instrument industries.

Some of our analysts, Alice, Josephina, Mike, Ivan, and I have each highlighted an instrument or technique to show its use in the industry. Particularly how these instruments can significantly shape and impact crime science forensics, food safety, and mining for gold. Okay well, searching for gold…okay more like testing for gold and other precious metals. But really, along with shoe-horned jokes, we’re offering you the gold [standard] of market research with this report!

Today we’re taking a look into Portable Molecular Spectroscopy:

Molecular spectroscopy covers a variety of crucial technologies for discerning chemical structure and analyzing different parameters of food, polymers, or pharmaceuticals, but these instruments are often tied to laboratories or other research institutions. Traditionally, these systems were large and required highly trained operators; a trend that continues today with high field NMR systems with their own separate rooms. Today, improvements in both technology and usability have allowed these instruments to see use outside the laboratory and into the field.

Portable and handheld molecular spectroscopy systems are relatively new to the market, having steadily gained popularity in the past few years. Unfortunately, handheld NMR may not be feasible in the future considering the technique and magnets involved, although other technologies have already made the jump to handheld systems. These instruments, such as photometers and refractometers, have been around for a while, but newer Raman and IR handheld systems have also gained popularity in recent years. As if something out of a science fiction movie, these devices can be aimed at an unknown material to discern its molecular properties.

Portable and handheld units offer some big advantages. Without needing to send samples to a lab to be analyzed, the sample can be inspected on the spot. The typical cost of these systems is also lower than their benchtop counterparts, representing savings in both time and money. Benchtop instruments may still reign supreme for more precise measurements, but these small form-factor systems are expected to see increased popularity.

Demand for these technologies comes from a variety of sources, mainly the pharmaceutical industry, with other areas of demand including agriculture/food and security applications. One interesting area of use is in art & cultural history, where the color pigments in frescos, paintings, etc., can be analyzed to determine the time period the artwork was produced.

Thermo Fisher is the market leader with portable/handheld systems across several technologies including IR, NIR, and Raman, but other notable vendors of handheld systems include Hach and ATAGO, in UV/Vis and Refractometers respectively. Some interesting new developments include even smaller handheld instruments that connect to smartphones for analysis, instruments such as Orange Photonics’ LightLab cannabis analyzer combines chromatography and spectroscopy into a portable platform. Further miniaturization or combination analyses could be the next big steps in portable instrument development.

Overall, portable and handheld analyzers are here to stay; with improvements in versatility and usability, these instruments have earned a permanent spot in the laboratory and field and are expected to only see increased popularity with end-users in the future.

More data and analyst commentary on molecular spectroscopy can be found in our 2018 Global Assessment, and the breakdown of the section is in our brochure as well. Stay tuned for our next post on Monday, February 26th where we will explore Next Generation Sequencing.

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