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Near-infrared spectroscopy

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File:Dichloromethane near IR spectrum.png

Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) is a spectroscopic method that uses the near-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum (from about 800 nm to 2500 nm). Typical applications include pharmaceutical, medical diagnostics (including blood sugar and pulse oximetry), food and agrochemical quality control, and combustion research, as well as research in functional neuroimaging, sports medicine & science, elite sports training, ergonomics, rehabilitation, neonatal research, brain computer interface, urology (bladder contraction) and neurology (neurovascular coupling).


Near-infrared spectroscopy is based on molecular overtone and combination vibrations. Such transitions are forbidden by the selection rules of quantum mechanics. As a result, the molar absorptivity in the near IR region is typically quite small. One advantage is that NIR can typically penetrate much farther into a sample than mid infrared radiation. Near-infrared spectroscopy is, therefore, not a particularly sensitive technique, but it can be very useful in probing bulk material with little or no sample preparation.

The molecular overtone and combination bands seen in the near IR are typically very broad, leading to complex spectra; it can be difficult to assign specific features to specific chemical components. Multivariate (multiple variables) calibration techniques (e.g., principal components analysis, partial least squares, or artificial neural networks) are often employed to extract the desired chemical information. Careful development of a set of calibration samples and application of multivariate calibration techniques is essential for near-infrared analytical methods.[1]


Ethanol near IR spectrum

Near infrared spectrum of liquid ethanol.

The discovery of near-infrared energy is ascribed to Herschel in the 19th century, but the first industrial application began in the 1950s. In the first applications, NIRS was used only as an add-on unit to other optical devices that used other wavelengths such as ultraviolet (UV), visible (Vis), or mid-infrared (MIR) spectrometers. In the 1980s, a single unit, stand-alone NIRS system was made available, but the application of NIRS was focused more on chemical analysis. With the introduction of light-fiber optics in the mid-1980s and the monochromator-detector developments in early-1990s, NIRS became a more powerful tool for scientific research.

This optical method can be used in a number of fields of science including physics, physiology, or medicine. It is only in the last few decades that NIRS began to be used as a medical tool for monitoring patients.


Instrumentation for near-IR (NIR) spectroscopy is similar to instruments for the UV-visible and mid-IR ranges. There is a source, a detector, and a dispersive element (such as a prism, or, more commonly, a diffraction grating) to allow the intensity at different wavelengths to be recorded. Fourier transform NIR instruments using an interferometer are also common, especially for wavelengths above ~1000 nm. Depending on the sample, the spectrum can be measured in either reflection or transmission.

Common incandescent or quartz halogen light bulbs are most often used as broadband sources of near-infrared radiation for analytical applications. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are also used; they offer greater lifetime and spectral stability and reduced power requirements.[2]

The type of detector used depends primarily on the range of wavelengths to be measured. Silicon-based CCDs are suitable for the shorter end of the NIR range, but are not sufficiently sensitive over most of the range (over 1000 nm). InGaAs and PbS devices are more suitable though less sensitive than CCDs. In certain diode array (DA) NIRS instruments, both silicon-based and InGaAs detectors are employed in the same instrument. Such instruments can record both UV-visible and NIR spectra 'simultaneously'.

Instruments intended for chemical imaging in the NIR may use a 2D array detector with an acousto-optic tunable filter. Multiple images may be recorded sequentially at different narrow wavelength bands.[3]

Many commercial instruments for UV/vis spectroscopy are capable of recording spectra in the NIR range (to perhaps ~900 nm). In the same way, the range of some mid-IR instruments may extend into the NIR. In these instruments, the detector used for the NIR wavelengths is often the same detector used for the instrument's "main" range of interest.


The primary application of NIRS to the human body uses the fact that the transmission and absorption of NIR light in human body tissues contains information about hemoglobin concentration changes. When a specific area of the brain is activated, the localized blood volume in that area changes quickly. Optical imaging can measure the location and activity of specific regions of the brain by continuously monitoring blood hemoglobin levels through the determination of optical absorption coefficients.

Typical applications of NIR spectroscopy include the analysis of foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals, combustion products and a major branch of astronomical spectroscopy.

Medical usesEdit

Medical applications of NIRS center on the non-invasive measurement of the amount and oxygen content of hemoglobin, as well as the use of exogenous optical tracers in conjunction with flow kinetics.

NIRS can be used for non-invasive assessment of brain function through the intact skull in human subjects by detecting changes in blood hemoglobin concentrations associated with neural activity, e.g., in branches of Cognitive psychology as a partial replacement for fMRI techniques.[4] NIRS can be used on infants, and NIRS is much more portable than fMRI machines, even wireless instrumentation is available, which enables investigations in freely moving subjects.[5][6] However, NIRS cannot fully replace fMRI because it can only be used to scan cortical tissue, where fMRI can be used to measure activation throughout the brain. Special public domain statistical toolboxes for analysis of stand alone and combined NIRS/MRI measurement have been developed[7] (NIRS-SPM).

The application in functional mapping of the human cortex is called diffuse optical tomography (DOT), near infrared imaging (NIRI) or functional NIRS (fNIR). The term diffuse optical tomography is used for three-dimensional NIRS. The terms NIRS, NIRI and DOT are often used interchangeably, but they have some distinctions. The most important difference between NIRS and DOT/NIRI is that DOT/NIRI is used mainly to detect changes in optical properties of tissue simultaneously from multiple measurement points and display the results in the form of a map or image over a specific area, whereas NIRS provides quantitative data in absolute terms on up to a few specific points. The latter is also used to investigate other tissues such as, e.g., muscle,[8] breast and tumors.[9] NIRS can be used to quantify blood flow, blood volume, oxygen consumption, reoxygenation rates and muscle recovery time in muscle.[8]

By employing several wavelengths and time resolved (frequency or time domain) and/or spatially resolved methods blood flow, volume and absolute tissue saturation (StO_2 or Tissue Saturation Index (TSI)) can be quantified.[10] Applications of oximetry by NIRS methods include neuroscience, ergonomics, rehabilitation, brain computer interface, urology, the detection of illnesses which affect the blood circulation (e.g., peripheral vascular disease), the detection and assessment of breast tumors, and the optimization of training in sports medicine.

The use of NIRS in conjunction with a bolus injection of indocyanine green (ICG) has been used to measure cerebral blood flow[11][12] and cerebral metabolic rate of oxygen consumption.[13] It has also been shown that CMRO2 can be calculated with combined NIRS/MRI measurements.[14]

NIRS is starting to be used in pediatric critical care, to help deal with cardiac surgery post-op. Indeed, NIRS is able to measure venous oxygen saturation (SVO2), which is determined by the cardiac output, as well as other parameters (FiO2, hemoglobin, oxygen uptake). Therefore, following the NIRS gives critical care physicians a notion of the cardiac output. NIRS is liked by patients, because it is non-invasive, is painless, and uses non-ionizing radiation.

Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) is another NIR medical imaging technique capable of 3D imaging with high resolution on par with low-power microscopy. Using optical coherence to measure photon pathlength allows OCT to build images of live tissue and clear examinations of tissue morphology. Due to technique differences OCT is limited to imaging 1–2 mm below tissue surfaces, but despite this limitation OCT has become an established medical imaging technique especially for imaging of the retina and anterior segments of the eye.

The instrumental development of NIRS/NIRI/DOT/OCT has proceeded tremendously during the last years and, in particular, in terms of quantification, imaging and miniaturization.[10]

See alsoEdit


  1. Roman M. Balabin, Ravilya Z. Safieva, and Ekaterina I. Lomakina (2007). Comparison of linear and nonlinear calibration models based on near infrared (NIR) spectroscopy data for gasoline properties prediction. Chemometr Intell Lab 88 (2): 183–188.
  2. (2005). A portable near infrared spectroscopy system for bedside monitoring of newborn brain.. BioMedical Engineering OnLine 4 (1): 29.
  3. Treado, P. J.; Levin, I. W.; Lewis, E. N. (1992). Near-Infrared Acousto-Optic Filtered Spectroscopic Microscopy: A Solid-State Approach to Chemical Imaging. Applied Spectroscopy 46: 553–559.
  4. (2002). Simultaneous measurements of cerebral oxygenation changes during brain activation by near-infrared spectroscopy and functional magnetic resonance imaging in healthy young and elderly subjects.. Hum Brain Mapp 16 (1): 14–23.
  5. (2008). Wireless miniaturized in-vivo near infrared imaging.. Optics express 16 (14): 10323–30.
  6. (2009). Wireless near-infrared spectroscopy of skeletal muscle oxygenation and hemodynamics during exercise and ischemia.. Spectroscopy 23 (5-6): 233–241.
  7. Ye, JC; Jan (2009), "NIRS-SPM: statistical parametric mapping for near-infrared spectroscopy.", Neuroimage 44 (2): 428–47, 
  8. 8.0 8.1 van Beekvelt, MCP (2002), "Quantitative near-infrared spectroscopy in human skeletal muscle methodological issues and clinical application.", PhD thesis, University of Nijmegen, 
  9. Van der Sanden, BP; Heerschap, A; Hoofd, L; Simonetti, AW; Nicolay, K; van der Toorn, A; Colier, WNJM; van der Kogel, AJ title=Effect of carbogen breathing on the physiological profile of human glioma xenografts (1999), Magn Reson Me 42 (3): 490–9, 
  10. 10.0 10.1 (2007). Progress of near-infrared spectroscopy and topography for brain and muscle clinical applications.. Journal of biomedical optics 12 (6): 062104.
  11. Keller, E; Nadler, A; Alkadhi, H; Kollias, SS; Yonekawa, Y; Niederer, P (2003), "Noninvasive measurement of regional cerebral blood flow and regional cerebral blood volume by near-infrared spectroscopy and indocyanine greene dye dilution.", Neuroimage 20: 828–839, PMID 14568455 
  12. (2002). Quantitative near infrared spectroscopy measurement of cerebral hemodynamics in newborn piglets.. Pediatric research 51 (5): 564–70.
  13. (2006). Measurement of cerebral oxidative metabolism with near-infrared spectroscopy: a validation study.. Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism 26 (5): 722–30.
  14. Tak, S; Jang, J; Lee, K; Ye, JC (2010), "Quantification of CMRO(2) without hypercapnia using simultaneous near-infrared spectroscopy and fMRI measurements.", Phys Med Biol 55 (11): 3249–69, PMID 20479515 

Further readingEdit

  • Kouli, M.: "Experimental investigations of non invasive measuring of cerebral blood flow in adult human using the near infrared spectroscopy." Dissertation, Technical University of Munich, December 2001.
  • Raghavachari, R., Editor. 2001. Near-Infrared Applications in Biotechnology, Marcel-Dekker, New York, NY.
  • Workman, J.; Weyer, L. 2007. Practical Guide to Interpretive Near-Infrared Spectroscopy, CRC Press-Taylor & Francis Group, Boca Raton, FL.
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