The HazMat Guys

In this bonus episode, we chat with Dr. Eric Roy from Cobalt Light Systems, now Agilent Technologies. Eric talks about the spatially-offset Raman technology behind Agilent’s Resolve handheld Raman system and describes how it’s used to identify hazardous materials (like fentanyl) inside sealed opaque packaging.

Complete Show Notes

00:55 Background on Cobalt Light Systems

  • Cobalt makes Raman spectroscopy products that uses what’s used spatially-offset Raman
  • This allows us to scan through opaque containers made from plastic, amber glass, or paper – i.e. 5-gallon buckets, gas cans, poly drums, etc.
  • The Cobalt Resolve is their handheld system that uses spatially-offset Raman technology

2:30 What Sets the Resolve Apart from Other Raman Technologies?

  • Cobalt uses a proprietary variant of Raman spectroscopy (spatially-offset Raman, or SORS)
  • Uses a de-focused beam that spreads energy around – helpful because you don’t want to heat up some substances (focused beams in other meters do this)
  • This moves the laser beam around to collect multiple scans – this makes their scan a little bit longer
  • The first scan scans the container, while the second scan scans what’s inside
  • Uses the contrast between those two measurements to tell you what’s actually inside the container
  • Algorithms in the meter look for any contrasts between those two readings

4:10 Scanning Material Limitations

  • Can’t scan through metal (i.e. a steel drum)
  • Also can’t scan through cinder blocks or most other building materials
  • Also can’t scan through corrugated cardboard
  • Easily scans through everything from small plastic gas cans all the way up to large blue poly 55-gallon barrels

5:30 Who Uses These Meters?

  • This is a new product, so they’re still waiting to see where the markets will go
  • Helpful for facilities that scan packages and for people dealing with illegal substances
  • Also useful for border agencies who scan for smuggled substances
  • Widely used by police departments and hazmat teams – found on a bunch of rigs
  • The military is also very interested in the Resolve system since its design de-focuses heat and won’t blow up explosives
  • Used widely in industry and academia, too – helpful when professors retire and leave a bunch of unidentified substances sitting around in their lab

9:45 Unique Capabilities of the Resolve System

  • Not just for opaque containers – still does point-and-shoot scanning through something clear or a substance in the open
  • System is designed to meter less than 5-10% of a sample, which differentiates it from other units
  • Raman meters are designed to measure liquids and solids, so this can’t measure vapors (like any other Raman)
  • You can meter in both bulk and trace modes, which means you can measure just about any quantity of just about anything
  • Use an 830-nanometer laser to significantly cut down on the fluorescence, which is responsible for lengthy measurement estimates – Resolve shuts off after 2 minutes of scan time
  • As wavelengths increase, the fluorescence is reduced – however, there’s also less sensitivity and you have to use different detectors

15:35 The Resolve’s Compound Library

  • Library contains around 12,000 compounds – chemical weapons, explosives, precursors, narcotics, industrial solvents, benign household chemicals, etc.
  • Resolve adds to the library and sends updates out via software updates – users can also add compounds to their library
  • Cobalt offers a reach back service and technical experts that can look at substances for you and help you determine whether it’s library-worthy

18:55 Limitations of the Resolve System

  • Bigger than some other devices – weighs around 5 lbs. and is the size of a sheet of paper

21:10 Using Resolve with a Dirty Sample or a Mixture

  • Darkness of dirty samples generates fluorescence – because this unit uses a longer wavelength, though, fluorescence is less of an issue
  • Spot size is also important – using a larger spot with a laser that moves around like the Resolve’s gives you a better chance of identifying the compound

25:00 Reach Back and Training on the Resolve

  • Cobalt partners with a top-notch training company to provide comprehensive training on their units
  • They also send someone from their factory to help out, too
  • Training involves setting up scenario lanes and running through them, rather than just instructions on pushing buttons
  • They offer 24/7/365 reach back and can overnight swap-out units to anywhere in the country if something goes wrong
  • You can take a picture and send it to them – this makes it easy for them to quickly identify the problem

28:30 Where to Get the Resolve

  • Sold through Federal Resources
  • Contact them via their website: Cobalt Light Systems
  • You’ll be put in touch with a salesperson who will come out and discuss the product with you
  • Check out the Resolve’s page on the Cobalt site
  • You can also call Cobalt at (703) 251-4865

Have a question? Send an email to or leave a message on our Haz Mat Guys comment hotline: 843-628-1484

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