Tiny Tech #22: Nanowire Barcodes

Today from the world of Tiny Tech:

When I’m at the grocery store, I always seem to be in the slowest checkout line. But…it's faster than it used to be because products come with a barcode on the label. This barcode allows the cashier, with a simple swipe, to rapidly identify each product for checkout.

Now imagine being able to shrink these barcodes to the nano scale. Researchers have done that, but, instead of grocery items, they’re identifying individual molecules.

Barcoded nanowires are tiny rods with their stripes made of different metals, such as gold and silver. The nanowires emit and reflect light in a certain pattern. If you place a molecule on the barcode's surface, you change that pattern. By modifying the nanowires so that the barcodes give distinctive patterns in response to specific molecules, investigators can easily identify which molecules are present in a sample. In the future, for example, the barcodes could make it possible to determine immediately what kind of bacteria is responsible for an infection.

So next time you’re watching a cashier turn a box over and over, searching for its barcode, just think: someday molecules may be waiting in line to be checked out, too.

Tiny Tech is made possible by the National Science Foundation and WUFT.  To learn more about Tiny Tech, go to tinytechradio.org.

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