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Device fingers chemical thugs at scene

Crime investigators often wish they could identify illicit or dangerous substances on the spot. Soon, officers may be able to do just that simply by pointing a wand at a suspicious material.

The wand is part of a laser device made by a team at Oak Ridge (Tenn.) National Laboratory. It identifies chemicals in seconds by means of a quantum-mechanical phenomenon known as Raman scattering, the lab announced last month.

The instrument's accuracy rivals that of full-scale laboratory equipment, its developers say. The analyzer was developed for the FBI, but its strengths could make it suitable for other uses, such as environmental monitoring, the researchers add.

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