Don’t have a cell phone but still need to send a text message? No problem! Researchers at Stanford University have devised a way to send a text message using household chemicals.
The device used at Stanford to send messages encodes the text in the same binary way of 1s and 0s. But, instead of using radio or electric waves, it relays information through pulses of signals sent through vinegar and glass cleaner. The simple idea is carried out in a very intricate way, but the concept is basic. First, a computer encodes the message which is then sent to a machine. From that signal, the machine pumps out the corresponding bits of chemicals, which travel to a pH sensor through plastic tubes. The detector recognises and records the changes in pH which are transmitted to another computer who deciphers the message.
The chemical way of sending messages can have dozens of applications. Nariman Farsad, the post-doctoral researcher leading the project explained that for some applications chemical way of sending messages can be better than wired or wireless technology. The use of chemical messaging can be beneficial for medical devices where radio signals have harmful effects on the body tissues. He also said that another advantage of using chemical messaging is that it cannot be intercepted outside the body.
Farsad used vinegar and glass cleaner as his primary acid and base because they are readily available chemicals in any household. Before using these chemicals, he also experimented with a version of the machine that used vodka while getting his PhD at York University in Canada, but the signal would build up to a point where the receiving end was too saturated with vodka to receive more messages. (In other words, the previous machine got too drunk to get a message)
A fellow post-doctoral friend Andrea Goldsmith, a professor of electrical engineering, said: It’s just so ‘out there,’ like science fiction, What are all the exciting ways that we could use this to enable communication that is impossible today? That’s what I would want someone to walk away thinking about.”
“It’s just so ‘out there,’ like science fiction, What are all the exciting ways that we could use this to enable communication that is impossible today? That’s what I would want someone to walk away thinking about.”
Farsad describes that his acid-base device is not ready to be used in the body because our blood naturally corrects any changes in pH to keep us healthy. He aims to understand the chemical signalling in our body better. He says, “I’d like to create a more sophisticated network of these tubes that resembles your circulatory system.”