Appearances can be deceiving. This is one of the first lessons we learn when it comes to assessing…well, everything. Particularly other people and, sadly, food. As debates rage on regarding organic, natural, and genetically modified foods, people are becoming more and more concerned with exactly what’s in a product or, worse, what’s in a package. But a new handheld sensor can give consumers a breakdown of a food’s “molecular fingerprint.”
SCiO is a small molecular sensor comprised of a spectrometer that analyzes the way an object’s molecules vibrate and how they interact with light. The SCiO illuminates an object while the spectrometer gathers the light that reflects off the object, which is what allows it to then determine an object’s molecular make-up. After a few seconds, SCiO delivers the information to a user’s smartphone via Bluetooth. The information is also sent to a cloud-based database of objects, so SCiO can learn from experience.
Consumer Physics, an Israeli start-up, came up SCiO as an affordable, portable way to analyze materials. It works for food, and also for medicine, plants, wood, oil, and fuels, among other things. Consumer Physics launched a Kickstarter that has already met its goal three times over, with 41 days to go. It’s a great way to empower consumers to learn more about the foods they’re eating or the objects they’re buying. For foods, the SCiO can determine nutritional values, including the amount of sugar, fat, protein, carbohydrates, calories, alcohol, and vitamin and mineral amounts, and then send that information to a user’s smartphone so they can determine whether s/he really wants to eat, wear, or smoke whatever it is they analyzed.
But why stop with food? Want to see if someone’s slipped a Mickey into your drink or if the generic version of a medicine is really the same as the branded one? Or maybe you pick mushrooms in the woods behind your house and want to see if any of them contain magic. SCiO isn’t 100% foolproof — if someone were allergic and needed assurance that there was no trace of an allergen in something, they might not want to rely on this device. But it is a huge breakthrough in an expensive technology that’s become portable for the first time. Eventually, it might even be possible to integrate spectrometry into phone cameras.
Maybe someday, someone will make one of these for people, so we can see what we’re all really made of.