What's worse than when you pour a bowl-full of milk onto your morning cereal and take a nice big spoonful only to discover that the milk has gone sour? OK, there are other worse things, but it's still really gross.
Hu "Tiger" Tao, a post-doctoral student at Tufts University in Massachusetts, is working on a chewable sensor that may provide a solution to the problem of spoiled food, Fast Company reported. The new technology uses a surprisingly old substance: silk.
Silk has been used for millennia in cloth, and more recent applications have included all sorts of medical, scientific and electronic uses. Tao's design uses tiny gold antennae embedded in a purified silk substrate that can be dunked into liquids like milk or pasted onto eggs or bananas or other foods using the silk's own sticky, glue-like properties. The sensors monitor food quality, alerting you when your fruit is ripe or your milk starts to go bad.
The technology is similar to the sort used in RFID chips that keep track of pets or livestock, in electronic toll collection and all sorts of other devices. Using what's called dielectric properties -- chemical changes that occur as a fruit ripens or rots, for example -- the sensors emit an electromagnetic signal that can be monitored by a reader.
An app on your smartphone could presumably pick up those signals and be programmed to let you know when that avocado sitting on your counter is perfectly ready to become guacamole.
The crazy thing about the sensors Tao and his collaborators created is that they are completely edible. The gold is as thin as the gold leaf used in fancy desserts, and the pure protein of the silk substrate is easily digestible. The whole thing is flexible, and since the silk itself is what holds it on the object to be monitored, there's no need for any additional glue.
There are countless other applications for this amazing technology. "Electronic skin," for example, could use flexible electronics to wirelessly track health statistics, monitoring blood pressure and other vital signs. Since the sensors are completely edible and biodegradable, the potential relevance for healthcare and food and consumer markets is huge.
Imagine waving your phone over a table full of melons and picking out the one that's perfectly ripe, every time. Friends, this is progress.
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