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Device fingers chemical thugs at scene

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12:42pm, June 19, 2001

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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