Researchers from the University at Buffalo, New York, have developed a low-cost chip that brings them one step closer to developing a breathalyzer that works much like an alcohol breathalyzer but instead of alcohol, the device would be capable of detecting cocaine.

"These findings have the potential to improve the speed and accuracy of roadside drug testing," said Joshua Harris from U.K. road safety charity Brake.

"Shockingly, drug-driving was a factor in 81 fatal road crashes in 2016 and it is clearly an ever-increasing danger on our roads. We are calling upon the government to prioritize the type-approval of roadside screening devices that can detect all banned drugs and step up roads policing levels to deter offending," said Harris.

A current method for chemical compound detection, called surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (Sers), is much more expensive than the chip, which can be produced inexpensively, according to researchers.

"The chips used for Sers are typically fabricated using expensive methods," said researcher Nan Zhang from the University at Buffalo, New York.

"We created our chip by depositing various thin layers of materials on a glass substrate, which is cost-effective and suitable for industrial-scale production."

Describing the chip as a sort of layer cake, insulating materials sit between a silver mirror and a layer of gold and silver nanoparticle material. If cocaine is placed on the chip's surface, light scatters, forming a pattern that behaves like a fingerprint, revealing what the substance is.

Researchers will continue testing the chip and hope that the chip will also be capable of detecting marijuana.

The research is published in the journal Small Methods.

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