FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | September 26, 2007

Science for Kids: Teaching old discs new tricks: A new spin on CDs and DVDs — as high-tech lab tools

The next time you rip a CD onto that shiny new iPod or cozy up with a DVD movie, give this some thought:  Scientists have found a surprising new job for compact discs and players. Those silvery wafers of plastic may be taking a spin in a laboratory near you!

Scientists in Spain found a way to use CDs, DVDs and disc players as laboratory tools. Some of them may take a spin one day testing blood or urine to make sure people stay healthy. In the future, others might identify mysterious substances found at crime scenes, and help find the criminal.

Dr. Angel Maquieira led the research team. These scientists used a cheap, portable compact disc player and CDs to build an early model of a compact disc lab unit. Dr. Maquieira coated an ordinary CD with special chemicals and three pesticides used to kill harmful insects. He put that CD into a Discman and pushed “play.” The laser light in the player that normally reads a CD could detect differences between each pesticide. When the information from the CD player was sent to a computer, it correctly identified each pesticide.

The scientists believe that lots of other chemicals can be identified in the same way with these cheap, simple recycled tools. And since CDs, DVDs and their players are so light and compact, they could be taken anywhere without much fuss. It looks like you can teach an old disc new tricks!

The new study will appear in the American Chemical Society’s journal Analytical Chemistry, a magazine for scientists.

— Adam Dylewski