Strange Science: Winged Microchip the Size of a Grain of Sand

Close-up of smooth sand at a beach texture background.

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A microchip the size of a grain of sand is the smallest human-made flying structure ever created, according to its developers, who say it could track airborne disease.

Scientists say the 'microfliers' could also be used to monitor air pollution and environmental contamination at scales not previously possible.

According to the Daily Mail there is no motor involved, the tiny device works like the propeller seeds of a maple tree, catching the wind to slow its fall as it glides to the ground. This allows for a dispersal over a broad area and increases time spent in the air, interacting with pollution and disease particles on the way down. So far versions of the tiny devices have been fitted with air pollution sensors, tools to study solar radiation at different wavelengths, and a PH sensor to monitor water quality.

The US team said the microflier started started life a as a small-scale electronic system that could be packed with sensors, and then made to fly or at least glide. As well as sensors, it has power sources, antennas for wireless communication and embedded memory to store data.

Now the team is using the same materials and techniques to build microfliers that naturally degrade and disappear in the ground over time to avoid electronic litter.

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