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Portable NMR

Key chemical identification technique, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, hits the road

3 min read

12 April 2005— Scientists have used nuclear magnetic resonance for at least 50 years to analyze the chemical structure of materials and more recently to image the soft tissues of the body. It would be an ideal tool for identifying chemicals in the field, especially if you cannot get a sample back to a laboratory, as is the case for robots looking for evidence of life on Mars. The problem is, accurate NMR needs a large, heavy magnet surrounding the material to be examined, something you can't easily transport.

But a team of German and American researchers have now built the first portable resonance sensor with an open-sided magnet. Because of the magnet's U-shape, the device can identify samples that are simply placed next to it rather than inside a barrel-size, cylindrical electromagnet. The unique design will allow NMR to be used in situations where it's not possible to surround the sample, like the analysis of a tree or an artifact at an archeological dig.

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic

Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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