Test & Measurement

Robotic Arm Probes Chemistry of 3D Objects by Mass Spectrometry

When life on Earth was just beginning, simple molecules bonded together into the precursors of modern genetic material. A catalyst would have been needed, but enzymes had not yet evolved. One theory is that the catalytic minerals on a meteorite's surface could have jump-started life's first chemical reactions, but scientists need a way to directly analyze these rough, irregularly shaped surfaces. A robotic system developed at Georgia Tech could soon let scientists better simulate and analyze the chemical reactions of early Earth on the surface of real rocks to further test this theory. In a proof-of-concept study, the scientists programmed the robotic arm to poke an irregularly-shaped object with an acupuncture needle. The needle collected a small amount of material that the robot deposited in a nearby mass spectrometer, which analyzed the products of the reaction.