Researchers at the University of Southern Mississippi have developed a new material that resembles cilia, sensory and motile hair-like organelles that protrude from virtually every cell in the human body. Cilia play an important role in smell, vision, hearing and promoting fluid flow. The material is similar to the cilia in that it responds to thermal, chemical, and electromagnetic stimulation. From an NSF press release:
Employing a process used for years to produce latex paints, the researchers formed thin copolymer-based films whose chemical composition makes possible filaments that have built-in molecular sensors that respond to temperature, acidity and ultraviolet radiation. Moreover, the filaments are capable of locomotion, waving, shrinking and expanding in response to stimuli. They also are capable of fluorescence, that is, absorbing and emitting light and changing colors as a reaction to ultraviolet rays.
The ability to engineer this cilia-like biosensor may give scientists an ability to, for example, test for the presence of toxins, oxygen or even lack of oxygen in an environment. Future opportunities for sensor use might include developing new sensors for testing glucose levels, using the sensors for drug testing, or testing for air or water safety.