@UCSD: An Alumni Publication

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Up Front: Letters to and from the editor
Campus Currents: UCSD Stories
Shelf Life: Books
Cliff Notes: Student life and sports
Class Notes: Alumni profiles
Campaign Update: Imagine the Future
Looking Back: Thoughts on UCSD
Credits: Staff and Contributors
Distant Diagnosis
To Play or Not to Play
The Modern Campus
The College Bond
Making Waves
Launch Party Photos
Fish, Fireworks & Fizz
Bye-Bye Bottlenecks
Three Million Volumes
Smart Dust
Geisel Goes Walking



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.