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TRITON TIDBITS FROM CAMPUS AND BEYOND

Monday, January 12 2004
Smart Dust

 
     

Dust may be the newest weapon in the war on terrorism. Michael Sailor, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCSD, and Jamie Link, a graduate student in his laboratory, have designed smart dust—tiny silicon chips about the diameter of a human hair. There is a colored mirror on each side of the particle and when the particle sticks to its target the color adjusts slightly.

Using a laser similar to a grocery store scanner, the colors can be read like a bar code. Each chemical encountered will induce a slightly different color change that makes it possible to test for the presence of thousands of chemicals simultaneously.

“ This is a key development in what we hope will one day make possible the development of robots the size of a grain of sand,” Sailor explains. “The vision is to build miniature devices that . . . could be used to monitor the purity of drinking or sea water, to detect hazardous chemical or biological agents in the air or even to locate and destroy tumor cells in the body.”

In October, Jamie Link won the $50,000 grand prize in the National Collegiate Inventors Competition for her work on smart dust.