Spark

The potential of chemical communication

The next big thing in texting? Why, using household cleaners of course!
Researchers have built a machine that texts sends messages using common chemicals. This system could be used in nanoparticle communication or to send secret notes. (Stanford University)
Listen10:53

If the medium really is the message, then the message here might be -- wash me?

Researchers at the Wireless Systems Lab at Stanford University have come up with a way to send text messages.

Yeah, that's so 1999.

But wait: they're sending them using glass cleaner and vinegar.

Try to think of it this way: all text messages exist in binary code (ones and zeroes). So the researchers, led by Andrea Goldsmith, expressing those ones and zeroes as glass cleaner and vinegar.

The vinegar is an acid, and the window cleaner is a base. Because they are opposites, they cancel each other out after the message is delivered.

The advantage of the fluids is that they're not electromagnetic, so they could communicate through sensitive areas, such as body tissue, or in areas with lots of metal that could deflect the signal, Andrea says. They are particularly useful for devices that have a very low power requirement as well.

Andrea notes that although the fluids are just an experiment, one of the practical ends of the research is to come up with ways of sending data that don't use the frequencies in use today, which are getting overloaded.

It's also practical in that they can send data without using electronics.

For example,  the vinegar and glass cleaner messaging system could be used to transport nanotechnology through the body to repair damaged tissue, without the threat of electromagnetic signals that could cause physical damage.

"We're really at the beginning stages," Andrea says.

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