This tiny sensor can tell you what things are, on a molecular level

SCiO is a keyring-sized spectroscope that links to your phone

A tiny molecular sensor? You gotta be pullin’ my science-leg!

Nope, the boffins from Consumer Physics have developed a tiny spectroscope that can tell you the chemical composition of something without even touching it. Via your phone and an app, of course.

I thought a spectroscope was something you used to measure ghosts.

No, that’s a ghostometer, obviously. A spectroscope views the electromagnetic spectrum - visible light, infrared and x-rays - emitted by objects, because that can tell you what’s in ‘em. It’s the same fact allows astronomers to say that what chemical elements are in a certain star or galaxy: you can’t fly over to another star, stick a finger in it and say “feels like helium to me”, but you don’t need to - the colour of the light the star emits brings that information to you. The SCiO uses the same principle: it shines some infrared light on a thing, analyses the light that’s reflected and, like a tiny, smartphone-connected astronomer, tells you what elements the thing contains.

Why do I need to know what elements are in a thing?

Here’s some bright green bacon that stinks, fancy making a sandwich? No? Congratulations, you’ve just performed spectroscopy: the colour of the bacon told you it contained compounds not found in edible bacon. You also did some sophisticated chemical sampling, by absorbing tiny samples of those compounds through the mucous membrane in your nose, analysing them and confirming that they come from Bad Bacon. You’re constantly sampling the chemical makeup of the world around you with your senses, and SCiO claims it can extend that power. So, it might be risky to use your senses to find out if those mushrooms are edible or poisonous, but SCiO can do some extra checking for you. Your senses can tell you that burger is rich in protein and fat, but SCiO can give you the numbers.

READ MORE: this is the most expensive tea-maker you'll never buy

It can even tell me what’s in my medication!

Er… yeah, although if you’re wondering whether or not to take an unidentified substance, maybe just don’t take it. We’re not really sure why SCiO’s inventors are so keen to point out that it can identify pharmaceuticals, unless…

Moving swiftly on.

If everyone had one of these, it could spell the end of use-by dates, as it could tell you if your chicken has gone off through the packet, and it would certainly make foraging for wild plants and mushrooms safe and reliable. But mainly, we’re keen to get one and just wander around finding out what materials things are made from.