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Next on CSI: Surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy

New twist on powerful analytic method makes it much more useful

Scientists have developed a quick and dusty method for detecting trace quantities of unknown substances.

Described in the March 18 Nature, the new technique amounts to little more than sprinkling a layer of gold dust on the surface to be tested. Yet it will soon make one of science’s most powerful but unwieldy chemical analysis methods useful for detecting trace amounts of materials such as explosives, drugs and environmental contaminants, the researchers who invented it say.

“This really does make the possibility of detecting things … very, very practical, says physical chemist Martin Moskovits of the University of California, Santa Barbara, who wrote a commentary on the research in the same issue of Nature. The new method could have broad applications, from forensics to food inspection, says Moskovits. “It potentially allows you to do in situ analysis at a much greater level of sensitivity.”

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