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The Madison Record

Alabama A&M scientists use lasers to detect food contaminants

Dr. Anup Sharma poses with Raman spectrometer in his physics lab at Alabama A&M University. (CONTRIBUTED)
Dr. Anup Sharma poses with Raman spectrometer in his physics lab at Alabama A&M University. (CONTRIBUTED)

NORMAL – Researchers at Alabama A&M University have received a Department of Homeland Security grant to conduct research on unique methods to detect food contamination.

“The public’s trust in a consistently safe food supply chain is so essential to the maintenance of everyday life that Homeland Security has awarded the $98,000 grant,” Jerome Saintjones said. Saintjones works in marketing and public relations at A&M.

The grant will fund interdisciplinary research at A&M and will pair gifted food scientists with two of the university’s leading physicists.

Physicist Dr. Anup Sharma received a grant to further develop a laser technique useful in detecting food contamination, along with variations in food quality. The National Center for Food Protection and Defense, affiliated with Homeland Security, awarded the grant.

Recently, Sharma advanced a technique known as “standoff Raman spectroscopy” that will help in locating explosive chemicals in objects from a distance of several hundred feet. “The procedure entailed ‘shooting’ an infrared laser beam at a distant target and collecting the resulting ‘chemical signature’ via telescope,” Saintjones said.

Sharma’s spectroscopy work was funded with a contract with the U. S. Army’s Aviation and Missile, Research, Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC).

Sharma and colleague Paul Ruffin are working with A&M food scientists Armitra Davis and Judith Boateng to apply the same Raman spectroscopy technique to food science applications.

“The nature and source of food contamination, whether deliberate or accidental, can be very diverse,” Sharma said. “It can include bacteria, agro-chemicals, industrial waste, animal-related drugs, heavy metals and chemicals.”

“If the A&M team is successful in its research into the novel application of the standoff Raman laser technique, they could open up additional avenues to monitor the food supply chain through new methodologies,” Saintjones said.

For more information, visit aamu.edu.

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