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Robotic Arm Probes Chemistry of 3-D Objects By Mass Spectrometry

By Georgia Tech News Center

March 27, 2014

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Georgia Institute of Technology researchers have developed a robotic system that enables scientists to better simulate and analyze the chemical reactions of early Earth on the surface of real rocks to further test how life started.

The researchers first selected a region for analysis on round or irregularly-shaped objects using a three-dimensional (3D) camera on a robotic arm, which mapped the 3D coordinates of the sample's surface. The arm was programmed to poke the sample with an acupuncture needle, which collected a small amount of material the robot deposited in a nearby mass spectrometer.

"We're using an acupuncture needle that will touch very carefully on the surface of the object and then the robot will turn around and put the material inside of a high-resolution mass spectrometer," says Georgia Tech professor Facundo Fernandez.

The researchers proved the system was capable of probing a 3D object by imprinting ink patterns on the surfaces of polystyrene spheres. The robotic arm modeled the surfaces and probed specific regions to determine if the samples were sufficient for mass spectrometry analysis.

"We are using the repeatability and accuracy of robots to achieve new capabilities that have numerous applications in biomedical areas such as dermatology," says Georgia Tech professor Henrik Christensen.

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