What ‘smart dust’ may mean for your home and health

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Chips are meant to be thin and small — but rarely can they be sprayed from an aerosol can. Yet that’s exactly the size of new microscopic chemical sensors developed by researchers, who imagine they could one day use the devices to detect environmental issues, or even a medical patient’s illness, by placing them in the digestive tract.

Rarely do sensors need to be microscopic like this to work in home devices (more on that in a minute), but scientists of the paper recently published in Nature Nanotechnology have long been interested in these tiny chips, which were “previously called “smart dust,'” they write.

Each sensor is 100 micrometers wide and close to one micrometer thick, with a circuit on top that includes a chemical detector, which acts as a switch, a photodiode, which powers the sensor, and a mediator, which acts as the memory.

The sensors, first reported by Science News, can be created to detect different elements. In their lab, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Zhejiang University in China overlaid 2D materials on top of the chips and were able to read whether there was ammonia in pipelines, and also sense “aerosolized soot,” they write.

To see what the sensors are reading, researchers round up the chips and then connect them to electrodes to see what they’ve come into contact with after they’ve been dispersed.

Sensors are the key to connected devices in the smart home, including smoke alarms, smart thermostats, water leak detectors, and when windows and doors have opened or closed. Sensors can also be applied to the human body and read how much UV light someone has absorbed, or even track what they have eaten.

This article originally appeared on GearBrain and syndicated by Mediafeed.org.

Featured Image Credit: iStock.