New infrared detector may transform smartphones into pocket-sized portable labs

In its latest example of innovation performance, BASF has developed HertzstückTM, a groundbreaking infrared detector that may soon transform smartphones into pocket-sized portable laboratories. This new detector will enable consumers to use their phones to analyze food - for example, to measure the fat content of curd cheese, as shown in the infographic.

The innovative near infrared sensor for wavelengths of 1 3 μm was developed by the startup trinamiX, a company founded by BASF researchers in Ludwigshafen, Germany, in 2015. The patented thin film encapsulation of the functional semiconductor layer is very stable and protects the sensor from environmental influences such as water and oxygen. This miniaturization means that Hertzstück can be installed as a sensor chip on the circuit board of a smartphone.

In near-infrared spectroscopy, short-wave infrared light is emitted to cause specific molecular vibrations which can then be detected by a sensor. In industrial processes, this is routinely carried out using large equipment, for example, for quality controls of food and pharmaceutical products. Specialized analysis software can then be used to measure aspects such as water, protein, or fat content. Installed in a smartphone, this measurement technology will one day also provide useful information to consumers about the invisible properties of their food. This can be helpful for people who want, for example, to monitor fat consumption or eat a vegan diet.

Analyzing food with a smartphone happens in just a few seconds, without compromising the product in any way. In certain cases, the near infrared sensor can even be used to measure through packaging, but the application is especially useful for unpackaged and prepared foods. And there are many other potential non-food applications for the Hertzstück detector, including measuring the moisture content of skin to select the right cosmetic products, the level of active ingredients in medications or even the content of natural fibers in furniture materials. The first spectrometers using the new infrared sensor will be available in 2019 for industrial and semi-professional applications. The average consumer will likely have access to near infrared spectroscopy in their smartphone by 2022.

Hertzstück is a brand of trinamiX GmbH, a spin-off and wholly owned subsidiary of BASF SE. trinamiX GmbH was founded in 2015 and is based in Ludwigshafen, Germany. The team around Hertzstück consists of experts from various competence areas such as chemistry, physics, material science and engineering. They offer standard and custom-engineered products in the field of infrared detection.

trinamiX also has a second business line of innovative sensor systems for depth measurement sold under the brand name XperYenZTM.

Building on the knowledge and experience gained from 153 years of research and development, BASF is drawing from the impetus of start-up culture to turn products and technologies into the innovations of tomorrow. The company's scientists are constantly developing sustainable solutions for some of the greatest global challenges and launching them on the market. This is why BASF will continue to work with game-changing innovators such as trinamiX and why it believes that there are many reasons to be optimistic about the future.

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