Chips are getting smaller and smaller, this is the obsession of manufacturers to improve their efficiency and also the effort of researchers to improve existing technologies and solutions. Proof of this is the latest research at Columbia University, where they have developed a chip so small that it can be injected with a syringe and sends information on the state of the body’s tissues.
As reflected in the published article, it is the world’s smallest chip ever created. It has a volume of just 0.1 mm3 and is a fully functional circuit. The chip is so small that it fits through a hypodermic needle, the ones used by doctors’ syringes. It is only visible under a microscope.
The chip has been tested so far in mice, where a single mouse had up to seven implanted at a time to demonstrate its capabilities. The researchers believe that it can be safely implanted in humans in the future to measure some body functions and monitor their state of health. It’s not an entirely new idea and not at all far-fetched.
One of the difficulties the scientists encountered was developing a wireless communication system between the chip and an external device. Usually what is used in such small devices is a radio frequency module connection to transmit and receive electromagnetic radio signals. This, however, was not possible on this very small chip because the wavelengths were simply too large.
Instead of radio frequency, what the researchers decided to use is ultrasound wavelengths, which are much smaller. Therefore, they implemented a piezoelectric transducer that would act as an antenna to both transmit information and feed itself wirelessly.
On the other hand, the chip contains a low-power temperature sensor. With this, the chip is able to detect the temperature in real time and monitor the state of the tissues inside the body. They say that for the moment the chip is limited to measuring temperature, although it could also in the future measure blood pressure, respiration or glucose levels, for example.
The interesting thing about the chip, apart from being so small, is that it works independently. It does not require more to operate as it has its own power and sensors for communication and measurement of the environment. We will see if they are used for clinical applications in the future.