An extraordinary collaboration between geologists, physicists and cancer specialists has generated a sensor which can "sniff out" oil reserves and detect the early stages of lung cancer.
The LightTouch sensor was designed to measure tiny amounts of ethane naturally seeping from hydrocarbon reservoirs.
The device looks for ethane in a person's breath
But doctors visiting the laboratory of Scottish physicists who built it commented that ethane is also exhaled by lung-cancer patients.
Now, the technology is being used for both applications and may have a far-reaching impact for oil prospectors and cancer sufferers alike.
In 1997, scientists in Holland were developing sensors for detecting leaks in refineries.
"We made the intuitive leap that if we could track down leaks in refineries we could probably also track down leaks from reservoirs," explains Dr Bill Hirst, Principal Scientist Instrumentation for Shell Global Solutions.
Ethane is a good indicator of buried oil and gas because it is produced by cracking - the breaking down of large molecules into smaller constituents - which generally only happens within a reservoir.
So the team called on optics expert Miles Padgett, Professor of Physics at the University of Glasgow, to create an ethane detector.
The device is normally used to sniff out oil deposits
To test its new toy, the team mounted it in the back of a vehicle along with an anemometer and laptop computer.
They divided a 400-square-kilometre area of Oman's desert into a grid and took measurements at various points.
Along with levels of ethane, the team recorded the wind direction in three dimensions, wind speed and turbulence.
"If there is a source in one particular cell of the grid then the wind is blowing that, and you'll get a cone-like plume of gas, albeit very diluted, from the source," Dr Hirst told BBC News Online.
"As long as the sensor is within the cone, it will pick up a measurement, down to 10 or 20 parts per trillion."
As the results from the field trial began to reveal LightTouch's potential to considerably cut the cost of exploration surveys, Professor Miles Padgett began using the sensor to analyse breath samples from 50 patients at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee.
In response to cancer, free radicals within the body increasingly break down cell membranes into hydrocarbons, including ethane.
Twenty-one of the patients had lung cancer, and all but one gave a high ethane reading.
However, five of the patients without cancer also provided high counts, possibly because another disease or a particular food eaten that day may affect the output.
Padgett is now embarking on a two-year research project to find out more using a newly built sensor dedicated to cancer detection, while the geologists plan to offer LightTouch surveys commercially to oil prospectors.
"Everything in science is a long shot, and this is no exception," says Professor Padgett.
"But I think both these applications have the potential to be massive."