This 16-Year-Old Created A $15 Cell-Phone-Sized Device That Can Detect Cancer, Explosives

You may remember 16-year-old Jack Andraka from our stories about his work developing a cheap, accurate pancreatic cancer sensor and more recently, a tricorder that will compete for the Tricorder X Prize.

At this year’s Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Andraka won the competition last year), he presented another project: a handheld device (known as a raman spectrometer) that can be used to detect explosives, environmental contaminants, and cancer in the human body. Today, raman spectrometers are extremely delicate, can be as large as a small car, and cost up to $100,000. Andraka’s model costs $15 and is the size of a cell phone.

As Andraka explains, a raman spectrometer is “a large piece of equipment that shoots a powerful laser at a sample and tells the exact chemical composition.” Those powerful lasers alone can cost up to $40,000. So Andraka swapped out the big lasers for an off-the-shelf laser pointer and replaced the device’s liquid nitrogen cooled photodetector (used to examine the chemical composition of whatever material is being looked at) with an iPhone camera. He tells Co.Exist that the results are “comparable to a traditional raman spectrometer.”

Here’s Andraka explaining exactly how it works:

The young scientist says he didn’t get any help with the project. “This was pretty much all just me,” he says. He does, however, do some of his work at a lab at Johns Hopkins University.

Andraka is thinking about incorporating the device into the tricorder that he and other former ISEF winners are developing. That project is his primary focus right now; this, believe it or not, is secondary.AS