This isn’t intended to replace the use of electronics to transmit information but the work that George Whitesides and colleagues at Harvard University have just published (in Angewandte Chemie) is stunning to me. From the news item on physorg.com,
We currently transmit information electronically; in the future we will most likely use photons. However, these are not the only alternatives. Information can also be transmitted by means of chemical reactions. George M. Whitesides and his colleagues at Harvard University in Cambridge have now developed a concept that allows transmission of alphanumeric information in the form of light pulses with no electricity: the “infofuse”.
Transmitting information by a chemical reaction? This is how the researchers approached the problem initially,
The strips were covered with patterns of dots made of salts of the elements lithium, rubidium, and cesium. When the strip is ignited, the flame travels forward and reaches the dots one after the other. The heat causes the elements to emit light at characteristic wavelengths. The dots may contain combinations of three different salts, resulting in seven possible combinations. A combination of two dots thus allows for 7×7 = 49 different signals.
The researchers have since tweaked the process to address some of the issues such as flames extinguishing themselves too quickly, etc. because,
“We hope that it will be possible to develop a light, portable, non-electric system of information transmission that can be integrated into modern information technology,” says Whitesides. “For example, it could be used to gather and transmit environmental data or to send messages by emergency services.”
Whitesides has been mentioned on this blog before, notably in regards to an article by Robert Fulford (in Canada’s National Post) about a nanotechnology book he co-authored with Felice Frankel. Interestingly his recently published article on the ‘infofuse’ was funded by the American Cancer Society and supported the US Dept. of Defense’s DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) . A rather unusual pairing, non?