Flash-memory technology, the brains behind the iPod nano and shuffle, USB keys, and a whole host of other portable electronic devices, is also powering multipurpose sensors that are no wider than a human hair in medical testing. They are the product of a team of researchers led by a professor at Cornell University, and are designed to monitor human blood flow, pressure, and temperature.
The first tests, envisioned within five years, will likely be done on lab animals. But the researchers envision eventually installing the sensors inside a person’s body, in order to monitor the health of blood and vital organs and be a first line of defense against the presence of toxic chemicals.
That last listing brings up the subject of drug testing, which would be a possible use of the sensors as well. They could be continually sending signals showing such good health or be part of a one-off test.
We’re still a rather large handful of years away from this, of course. By then, the researchers will have perfected a wireless version of the sensors, which for now have to be connected to wires (which kind of makes the whole always-on concept a misnomer, at least for the moment).
Adding the wireless capacity will increase the size of the sensor as well, from 100 micrometers to a few square millimeters—still small enough to fit on your garden-variety hairbrush.
For now, the news is the novelty of flash memory being used to track good health.