The tiny sensors are not only incredibly thin, but also biocompatible and biodegradable, which means that you can, in fact, eat them.
As it stands, it’s somewhat difficult to continually test foodstuffs for freshness. After all, it doesn’t seem particularly efficient — or pleasant — to send an employee around the fish market, smelling every cut to ensure that it’s still fresh enough to be sold. But now, there’s a tech-forward solution. Thanks to this 16-micrometer-thick sensor (a human hair is 100 micrometers thick), food professionals (or you!) are able to check the temperature of the food from afar. This allows for constant and wireless monitoring of food temperatures, which is a key component to freshness, especially during transport.
The sensor itself is made of magnesium, which the team points out is “an important part of our diet,” and other parts of the sensor are composed of silicon and nitride, as well as a compostable polymer based on corn and potato starch. So really, you can eat the whole thing. Of course, you wouldn’t want to snack on a bag of them, but ingesting one of these things wouldn’t do you any harm.
Aside from being edible, the sensor is also incredibly malleable. You could bend, stretch, or even crumple it up, and it would still be capable of determining the temperature of your food.
According to Giovanni Salvatore, who led the research, producing biocompatible microsensors has historically been a rather time-consuming and expensive process. However, as technology becomes more advanced, many of the obstacles to the widespread proliferation of these tools could be rendered obsolete. “Once the price of biosensors falls enough, they could be used virtually anywhere,” Salvatore said in a release. Similarly, “Their use would not be limited to temperature measurement either: similar microsensors could be deployed to monitor pressure, gas build-up and UV exposure.”
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