You probably take it for granted that the devices that enable our modern-day life communicate with each other by using electricity.
Either by wire or by electromagentic waves, it always comes back to an electrical signal flickering on and off and on again. But a new research project out of Stanford is experimenting with using chemicals, as opposed to electricity, to send data from one machine to the next. They’ve even managed to send a text message.
Instead of sending ones and zeros by turning a current off and on, this system sends pulses of acid (vinegar) and base (glass cleaner). The message, in binary chemical bits, travels through plastic tubes to the destination computer which tracks changes in pH levels to decipher the message.
“Every problem that we’ve addressed in traditional wireless communications over the last three or four decades is really different now because it’s a different mode of communicating,” says Andrea Goldsmith, Stanford professor of electrical engineering in a press statement. “As so, it opens up all of these new ways of thinking about the optimal way to design this type of communication system.”
The possible applications for a stable, non-electronic messaging system are myriad. It could operate as a backup or alternate source of communication in case of a blackout, something inherently hardened to EMPs. Places where sending electric signals are difficult, like underwater, could be open for easier communication.
For the next step, Goldsmith and her fellow researchers are looking at human-based nanotechnology. Traditional communication is a problem for in-body nanotech because electronic signals don’t behave well inside the body and could cause potential organ damage. A messaging system not reliant on electricity could forego these problems altogether.
“It’s just so ‘out there,’ like science fiction,” Goldsmith says. “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.”
Author: David Grossman