What if a single musical note could mean the difference between life and death? A new sensor based on a 3,000-year-old African musical instrument can be used to identify substances, including a poisonous chemical sometimes mistakenly added to medicines. Existing technologies to identify counterfeit drugs are both expensive and require expert technicians, neither of which are readily available in much of the developing world. The device can accurately measure the density of any liquid; comparing the density of a suspicious liquid medicine to the density of the known product can reveal whether or not the two medicines have the same ingredients. The research was inspired by the observation that frequencies of sound created by a musical instrument are determined by the instrument's physical properties. For example, the pitch of a guitar string is a function of the length and tension of the string. The mbira sensor, which can be constructed from off-the-shelf or discarded materials, could offer pharmacists and consumers in the developing world inexpensive protection from counterfeit and adulterated drugs.
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