This column presents technologies that have applications in commercial areas, possibly creating the products of tomorrow. To learn more about each technology, see the contact information provided for that innovation.

Malaria Test as Simple as a Bandage

Rice University researchers developed a microneedle-based diagnostic test for malaria that could become as simple as putting on a bandage. The device requires no blood draw and uses protein biomarkers contained in dermal interstitial fluid — what people generally recognize as the fluid inside blisters. The sticky patch has 16 hollow microneedles in a 4×4 array on one side, coupled with an antibody-based lateral-flow test strip on the other. Once the test is complete, the device can be removed like any bandage. The self-contained test delivers a result in about 20 minutes and does not require medical expertise or any equipment. The disposable patches could be programmed to detect other diseases, potentially including COVID-19.

Contact: Mike Williams
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Underwater Navigation System Powered by Sound

GPS isn’t waterproof — it depends on radio waves, which break down rapidly in liquids including seawater. MIT researchers have built a battery-free pinpointing system called Underwater Backscatter Localization (UBL) that reflects modulated signals from its environment rather than emitting its own acoustic signals. That provides positioning information at net-zero energy. The system uses piezoelectric materials that generate their own electric charge in response to mechanical stress like getting pinged by vibrating soundwaves. An observation unit could emit a soundwave, then clock how long it takes that soundwave to reflect off the piezoelectric sensor and return to the observation unit. UBL could someday become a key tool for marine conservationists, climate scientists, and the U.S. Navy.

Contact: Abby Abazorius, MIT News Office
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Implantable Sensor Safely Biodegrades

A team at Penn State has designed a highly sensitive flexible gas sensor that can be implanted in the body and after it’s no longer needed, safely biodegrade into materials that are absorbed by the body. It can monitor various forms of nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NOo) gas in the body. The device’s conductors — the elements that conduct electricity — are made of magnesium and the functional materials are made of silicon. The body can safely absorb all of the materials used in the device. An added benefit of the design is that the materials dissolve at a slow enough pace that would allow the sensors to function in the body during a patient’s recovery period.

Contact: Matt Swayne, Pennsylvania State University
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