You could soon be eating fish chipped with biodegradable microsensors
Have we gone too far with the internet of things? Clearly not, as researchers in Zurich have managed to develop a safe, non-toxic sensor that can be put into fish being transported for food. These sensors are unique, as they avoid the metals that are harmful to either the environment or humans that are used in most microsensors today.
Understandably, these aren’t the kind of thing you want anywhere near your food. Which is why a team of researchers in Zurich, led by Giovanni Salvatore, post-doctorate in the Electronics Laboratory, have been working hard on the development of biodegradable versions to monitor temperatures.
Sounds kind of scary. I wouldn’t worry about it though, if you’re concerned that you’re going to end up with a mouthful of piscine implant, the miniature composition of the microsensor should put your mind at ease.
The sensor is just 16 micrometres thick, making it much thinner than a human hair (100 micrometres), and is only a few millimetres in length, weighing no more than a fraction of a milligram. The microsensors are made out of tightly-wound electrical filament made of magnesium, silicon dioxide and nitride in a compostable polymer. Magnesium is an important component in our diet, so if anything, a combination of that all-important Omega-3 and magnesium will be good for you. Well, that’s what I’ll be telling myself when I take my first bite into something which has a microsensor in it.
In its current form, the sensor dissolves completely in a 1% saline solution over the course of 67 days, and it’ll function for one day when completely submerged in water. This is the length of time that is just sufficient enough to monitor a shipment of fish from Japan to Europe.
However, Salvatore highlights that it’s still relatively easy to extend the operating life of the sensor by adjusting the thickness of the polymer. But doing this would make it less flexible, so there’s a payoff involved. In fact, the current sensor is so thin that it continues to function even if it has crumpled completely or has folded in on itself. Even when stretched by around 10% of its original size, the sensor incredibly remains intact.
At the moment, the production of biodegradable microsensors is a very time-consuming and expensive process, but Salvatore predicts that biodegradable sensors will be a part of our everyday life within the next five to ten years, depending on the level of interest shown by the industry.
For now, the future technology seems clean, green and highly efishent.