“People are going to be bionic.” So says Princeton University’s Michael McAlpine, a firm believer of the idea that humans, possibly within just five to ten years, will wear electronic devices all over the body for various purposes. Whether it’s integrating cardiac sensors into the body to monitor abnormal beats or in this case, fixing a flexible electronic circuit atop tooth enamel to detect potentially-harmful bacteria before it ever gets the chance to enter the body.
Constructed from silk strands pulled from cocoons and using gold wires “thinner than a spider’s web” before being layered onto a one-atom thick layer of graphene, McAlpine and his team are behind a ‘removable tattoo’ that can sit on the tooth and alert its wearer to harmful microbes slipping past the lips, all entirely wirelessly and all in real-time with the help of a small antenna sending signals to a remote ‘reader device’. And though the researchers have so far only used the tattoo to detect specified bacteria (whether E.Coli or the ulcer-causing H.pylori), as McAlpine tells Princeton’s news site, “In principle, [it] can be tailored to detect a range of different things. It can be configured to detect DNA or certain viruses.”
About the size of a postage stamp, the dental device is still a little too large to fit inside your average human’s mouth – McAlpine’s research team has been testing the gizmo on a cow tooth – and will have to rely on further development to make it even more minute. A future of true cybernetic organisms (or ‘cyborgs’) where flexible, body-compatible electronics are integrated under the skin for everyday use can’t be too far ahead. Can it?
“We went from a computer that fits in a room, to a computer that goes on your desk, to a computer than can go in your pocket,” says McAlpine. Computers on the body are “the next logical step.”