Asbestos Detecting Lasers

Asbestos fibres that enter the lungs
Asbestos fibres enter the lungs causing diseases including asbestosis and mesothelioma

Graphene might be the latest and greatest hero of the scientific community, but lasers are still awesome and have a new trick up their sleeves to prove it.

Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire have developed a device that can detect the presence of airborne asbestos particles which are known causes of mesothelioma and other asbestos related fatal diseases.

The previous and most accurate method for testing for asbestos involves filtering the air in a given location and sending the captured particles to a lab for an x-ray analysis and confirmation, a very time consuming process. But this new approach takes advantage of the fact that asbestos is slightly magnetic, a rare property that’s unique among fibrous materials.

The detector firsts blasts a cloud of airborne particles with a laser and the crystalline structure of asbestos scatters the focused light producing recognizable patterns almost like fingerprints. These particles are then sucked into the detector where they then pass through a magnetic field. Since asbestos is also magnetic the particles align themselves and as they exit the detector the same laser based light scattering technique is used to confirm their presence.

Working with colleagues in Spain the British team has already developed prototypes that are currently undergoing field trials. Researchers are optimistic that within 12 to 18 months the first production units will be on sale for around $800. So here’s to hoping the field tests do go well, as this device literally has the potential to save lives.