UA and US researchers develop analysis methods using new smartphone-based instrument
It is a new advance in the development of real-time, portable and economical chemical analyses available for quality control in the pharmaceutical or food sectors, among others
Pictures: Miguel Ángel Aguirre (in charge of the study at the UA) and the new analysis instrument adapted to mobile phones
Alicante. Thursday 20 December 2018
Researchers from the University of Alicante's Department of Analytical Chemistry, Nutrition and Food Science and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in the US have developed a new compact and portable analytical method. This technology, patented by the American university, consists of transforming a mobile phone into a spectrophotometry system able to measure the amount of radiation absorbed by a sample when interacting with each other. Miguel Ángel Aguirre, who is responsible for this study at the UA together with professor Antonio Canals, explains: “We leverage the technology already available on smartphones and integrate it into this instrument, which uses the camera as a detector and the flash as a light source.”
The instrument is an advance in the development of portable and economical systems, as it can be employed to quickly and easily conduct chemical analyses using a mobile phone. “With this instrument, it will be possible to perform quality control checks throughout the chain of suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, packagers and consumers to easily and quantitatively verify the content of compounds in food and pharmaceutical products,” the UA researcher points out.
In addition to compacting an analytical instrument exclusively used in laboratories, this portable technology allows any user to collect samples and share information in real time for experts to interpret it. In countries having limited resources, Miguel Ángel Aguirre says, resources allocated to chemical analysis laboratories are minimal, and this mobile phone-based technology will make it possible to check that products meet quality standards, significantly reducing instrumentation costs and reagent consumption.
Since 2016 Miguel Ángel Aguirre, who was awarded a post-doctoral fellowship from the Valencia Region Government and the European Social Fund (APOSTD/2016/076), has been in the US working on food and medicine quality control, to measure if vitamin C or ibuprofen concentrations matched amounts indicated on sales packages. “100% of the results of the tests performed with this pocket-sized instrument are equivalent to those indicated by the manufacturer,” he adds.
In a previous article published in the international journal Food Chemistry, the researchers highlight the importance of saving costs and time in standardised quality control procedures. As an example from the study, “the principal vitamin available in oranges in ascorbic acid (vitamin C), one of the 13 essential vitamins for human nutrition which has gained increased importance in the area of analytical chemistry. As such, the loss of nutritional value that can result from the processing and storage of orange products is an important consideration for growers, transporters, retailers and consumers,” he explains.