October 30, 2009--PAIR Technologies, a start-up company established by University of Delaware (UD; Newark, DE) researchers and a former DuPont scientist, is preparing to commercialize a high-precision detector--a planar array infrared spectrograph--that can identify biological and chemical agents in solids, liquids, and gases, present at low levels, and in less than a second, competing with traditional FTIR and other spectroscopy methods.
John Rabolt, the Karl W. and Renate Böer Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at UD, and his students invented and patented the technology in 2001. Rabolt and Bruce Chase, who recently retired from DuPont as a research chemist, founded the company in 2005. The UD owns the patents for the technology, which are under exclusive license to PAIR Technologies, and has taken a small equity position in the company.
"Most technology has about a 30-year cycle. Then something comes along to disrupt it, change it," Rabolt says. "We think we have that next-generation technology--beyond the current market leader, Fourier Transform Infrared spectroscopy." While it would take the current technology, which was designed more than 30 years ago--a Fourier Transform Infrared (FT-IR) spectrograph--tens of minutes to chemically identify the petroleum in a major oil spill, for example, PAIR Technologies' new instrument could provide the molecular fingerprint in one second or less, hastening cleanup efforts, Rabolt says.
When a sample is placed into the current FT-IR spectrograph for analysis, the instrument divides the infrared light source into two beams that reflect off both a fixed and a moving mirror. Two separate experiments must be run for every analysis--one with the sample, and one without. The PAIR Technologies instrument has no moving parts. It relies on a focal plane array, commonly used in medical imaging, which consists of a cluster of light-sensing pixels at the focal plane of a lens to receive the optically dispersed infrared light. As a result, the PAIR Technologies instrument provides a direct reading in under a second.
Besides environmental monitoring and even a potentially remote way to sample toxins to aid soldiers and hazardous materials (hazmat) responders, the scientists see applications in industry to help maintain and improve manufacturing processes, ensuring, for example, the purity of pharmaceutical drugs or the thickness of paints or polymer coatings. The detector also may bring new medical applications into focus, such as cataract detection.
For more information, go to www.pairtech.com.