NUGGET (Neutron/Gamma Ray Geologic Tomography), an instrument containing a neutron generator, a neutron lens and a gamma-ray detector, could be used to investigate important biological indicators of life on distant worlds - just like Star Trek's tricorder.
The system provides a three-dimensional scanning instrument that focuses a beam of neutrons into an object. When the nucleus of an atom inside the rock captures the neutrons, it produces a gamma-ray signal for that element, which the gamma-ray detector then analyzes. The location of the elements can also be plotted; nformation can then be turned into an image of the elements within the rock. Scientists could then tell whether a certain type of bacteria had become fossilized inside the rock.
The Neutron/Gamma Ray Geologic Tomography ... thingy.
Many of us remember the tricorder from the original Star Trek series of the mid-1960's. The standard Starfleet tricorder was used for determining various characteristics of landing areas (like life form readings). (Doctors and engineers had their own specific types of tricorder.)
For other news related to sensors and science fiction, see EyeBall: Omni-Directional Smart Eye Sensor and ThereminVision Sensor: Robot Proximity Detection. Read more at NASA develops a NUGGET to search for life in space and at Astrobiology magazine. See also more tricorder images and details.
Spock's Tricorder: He played it like a Vulcan Harp.
(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission from Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction.)