A team of physicists have designed a handheld device that many will think belongs in a science fiction movie rather than real life.

The tool, which resembles the sonic screwdriver used in Doctor Who, will use the power of MRI and mass spectrometry to perform a chemical analysis of objects.

Marcus Doherty, Ph.D., the lead researcher from the Australian National University (ANU), said the concept of a diamond-based quantum device can perform various functions like scanning and identifying matter and provide a detailed analysis of living things.

“Laboratories and hospitals will have the power to do full chemical analyses to solve complex problems with our device that they can afford and move around easily,” Doherty said in a statement. “This device is going to enable many people to use powerful instruments like molecular MRI machines and mass spectrometers much more readily.”

According to Doherty, the device could be used to weight and identify complex molecules including proteins that drive diseases like cancer.

“Every great advance for microscopy has driven scientific revolution,” he said. “Our invention will help to solve many complex problems in a wide range of areas, including medical, environmental and biosecurity research.”

Molecular MRI is a form of the common medical imaging technology that is capable of identifying the chemical composition of individual molecules with advanced quantum techniques borrowed from atomic clocks and gravitational wave detectors.

Co-researcher Michael Barson, a Ph.D. student from ANU’s Research School of Physics and Engineering, said the devices uses tiny defects in a diamond to measure the mass and chemical composition of molecules with advanced quantum techniques borrowed from atomic clocks and gravitational wave detectors.

“For the mass spectrometry, when a molecule attaches to the diamond device, its mass changes, which changes the frequency, and we measure the change in frequency using the defects in the diamond,” Barson said in a statement. “For the MRI, we are looking at how the magnetic fields in the molecule will influence the defects as well.”

According to the study, nanomechanical sensors and quantum nanosensors are two emerging technologies that have diverse interdisciplinary applications in biological and chemical analysis and microscopy. The researchers establish the principles for nanomechanical sensing using nanospin-mechanical sesnsors and assess their potential for mass spectrometry and force microscopy.

The study was published in Nano Letters