Graphene on toast? Edible electronics could help shield you from food poisoning

From helping detect cancer cells to acting as a kick-ass superconductor, graphene is capable of all kinds of amazing feats. But how does it taste? Believe it or not, that’s one of the questions being asked by researchers at Rice University — and the answers may turn out to be a bit more profound than you may think.

What chemist James Tour and his lab have been investigating are ways to laser graphene onto food for what may turn out to be the start of a revolution in “edible electronics.”

This laser-induced graphene (LIG) technique involves making a type of graphene foam out of tiny cross-linked graphene flakes. This can then be written onto various materials, lending ordinary foodstuffs like toast (or non-consumables like paper, cardboard, fabrics and more) some of the amazing abilities that come with graphene. The technique reportedly works extremely well on coconut shells and potato skins, due to their high level of lignin, a certain class of complex organic polymer.

“We use a technique that first converts the material into amorphous carbon, like burned toast or burned carbon, by a first laser pulse, and then a second and third pulse convert the newly formed amorphous carbon into laser-induced graphene,” Tour told Digital Trends. “The entire process takes a millisecond. We do this by defocusing the laser so that there are overlapping spots as it rides along, and the overlaps are equivalent to multiple laser pulses.”

graphene on toast grapheneontoast
Jeff Fitlow/Rice University
Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

But why exactly would you want to add a superthin film of graphene onto your toast, even if it is supposedly safe to eat? According to Tour, these graphene markers could act as sensors to reveal the path that food has taken from farm to table — or even to let you know if the food is safe to eat or has a bacteria like E. coli. “If you have ever had food poisoning, one needs to say no more,” Tour said. Applying the same technique to fabrics or paper could create straightforward sensors for tracking movement.

“All of our LIG is being commercialized,” he said. “First is LIG films that kill microbes for water purification. Next [is] likely flexible electronics, next on clothes.”

A paper describing the work was published in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano.

Features

Cities looking to get smart take a lesson from an iconic shopping mall

From Disney World to the Mall of America, public venues are becoming microcosms for smart city projects. We dove into both, to show what government officials can learn – and what you can expect from your city.
Home Theater

The best Dolby Atmos movies for your home theater sound as good as they look

If you've got your hands on some sweet Dolby Atmos gear, the next step is to find films that take advantage of it. These are our picks in every genre for the best Dolby Atmos movies currently available on Blu-ray and streaming services.
Home Theater

Block the outside world, tune into your own with the best in-ear headphones

Over-the-ear headphones offer top-flight sound, but they're not so easy to take along with you. If you're looking to upgrade your portable sound, check out our favorite in-ear headphones -- there's a model for every user and every budget.
Music

Spotify is the best streaming service, but its competitors aren’t far behind

It can be hard to decide which music streaming service is for you, so we've picked out the individual strengths of the most popular services, aiming to make your decision a little easier.
Emerging Tech

Bright ‘hyperactive’ comet should be visible in the sky this weekend

An unusual green comet, 46P/Wirtanen, will be visible in the night sky this month as it makes its closest approach to Earth in 20 years. It may even be possible to see the comet without a telescope.
Emerging Tech

Gorgeous images show storms and cloud formations in the atmosphere of Jupiter

NASA's Juno mission arrived at Jupiter in 2016 and has been collecting data since then. NASA has shared an update on the progress of the mission as it reaches its halfway point, releasing stunning images of the planet as seen from orbit.
Emerging Tech

Meet the MIT scientist who’s growing semi-sentient cyborg houseplants

Elowan is a cybernetic plant that can respond to its surroundings. Tethered by a few wires and silver electrodes, the plant-robot hybrid can move in response to bioelectrochemical signals that reflect the plant’s light demands.
Emerging Tech

Beautiful image of young planets sheds new light on planet formation

Researchers examining protoplanetary disks -- the belts of dust that eventually form planets -- have shared fascinating images of the planets from their survey, showing the various stages of planet formation.
Emerging Tech

Delivery robot goes up in flames while out and about in California

A small meal-delivery robot suddenly caught fire in Berkeley, California, on Friday. The blaze was quickly tackled and no one was hurt, but the incident is nevertheless a troubling one for the fledgling robot delivery industry.
Emerging Tech

High-tech dancing robot turns out to be a guy in a costume

A Russian TV audience was impressed recently by an adult-sized "robot" that could dance and talk. But when some people began pointing out that its actions were a bit odd, the truth emerged ... it was a fella in a robot suit.
Emerging Tech

MIT’s smart capsule could be used to release drugs in response to a fever

Researchers have developed a 3D-printed capsule which can monitor patients' vital signs, transmit this information to a connected device, and release drugs in response to symptoms.
Emerging Tech

‘Crop duster’ robot is helping reseed the Great Barrier Reef with coral

In a world first, an undersea robot has delivered microscopic coral larvae to the Great Barrier Reef. Meet Larvalbot: the robot "crop duster" which dispenses coral babies on troubled reefs.
Emerging Tech

Self-driving dirt rally vehicle offers crash course in autonomous car safety

Georgia Tech's AutoRally initiative pushes self-driving cars to their limit by getting scaled-down autonomous vehicles to drive really, really fast and aggressively on dirt roads. Here's why.
Photography

Forget painting-style transfers, this A.I. creates realistic portraits of fake people

Do these images look computer-generated? Nvidia researchers recently published a paper on a new variation on style transfer artificial intelligence that's able to generate entirely new portraits.