A team of researchers, including experts from Uppsala University in Sweden have developed a miniature device that they claim could revolutionize the way in which archaeologists date objects they discover in the field.
The instrument in question is being described as a high-tech microplasma source that is capable of exciting matter in a controlled, efficient way. While the device, which is detailed in a paper appearing in the Journal of Applied Physics, could be used in a wide range of applications in harsh environments, the authors claim that it could drastically change the study of artifacts.
The device – which researchers from the university’s Ångström Space Technology Centre (ÅSTC) describe as “a microplasma source based on a stripline split-ring resonator is presented and evaluated in a basic optogalvanic spectrometer” – offers several advantages, including electromagnetic compatibility, an integrated fluidic system, and Langmuir probes for plasma diagnostics.
Scientists at ÅSTC report that they often have to work with several different types of microtechnology or nanotechnology for use in space and other harsh environments. Those devices include scientific instruments, imaging, communication hardware, vehicles and spacecraft, propulsion devices, and thermal management.
“Putting miniaturized hardware into orbit or thousands of meters underground is always technically easier and less expensive, but using fundamentally different technology for demanding applications is often met with skepticism,” said ÅSTC director Greger Thornell. “So we need to also compete in terms of performance and reliability.”
Size limitation is “always a huge challenge,” he and his colleagues noted. However, they also said that they are used to working with microrocketry and localized phenomenon in miniature devices like sensors and actuators. Those kinds of phenomena can involve extremely high temperature and/or pressure, as well as intense plasma.
“In this case, the localization, or rather concentration, means that the device itself becomes handy and power-efficient, and also that it consumes small sample amounts, which widens the range of applications far beyond the requirement of simply lightweight or portable instruments,” Thornell said.
Archaeology is being investigated as a possible primary application of their newly-developed device in order to help determine the distribution of carbon isotopes in organic samples. As senior researcher Anders Persson of Linköping University explained, that information is critical for archaeologists, but obtaining the data can also be a difficult and time-consuming process.
“Their plasma source may be used to develop an instrument for field archaeologists, which would allow them to perform measurements while out in the field; this in turn may revolutionize archaeology by diversifying the amount of information available during the decision-making process of an excavation,” the American Institute of Physics (AIP) said in a statement. They also emphasized that the research was “still an early study to evaluate the use of this type of plasma source in an optogalvanic spectroscopy setup.”
For years I’ve wanted hand held atomic absorption spectrophotometery combined with a neural network on a chip a device anyone could use to see the complete chemical composition of any substance. I’d use it for food: Am I about to eat pesticides? A substance known to cause cancer? What is the mineral profile of this banana?