“Smart dust” refers to the tiny sensors developed by scientists on the Berkeley campus of the University of California. A coating of “smart dust” allows the makers of different types of detectors to create extra sensitive silicon sensors. It can also program those sensors to detect a particular element in the air, or in a biochemical fluid. Such sensors are now examining samples derived from various regions of the air and various outlets for body fluids. Many such samples were collected at locations quite far from the Berkley campus.
Some sensors have been built into the detection system on more than one tiny alcohol breath analyzer. Those sensors manage to detect the presence of alcohol in exhaled air. They can allow law enforcement officers to produce evidence of a driver’s foolish decision to drive while still in an intoxicated state. The courts are usually ready to admit the readings from any such alcohol breath analyzer.
More recently, physicians have had a chance to learn about another discovered use for the “smart dust.” On Friday, September 1, 2006, a prestigious scientific journal reported that two researchers had put some “smart dust” on the sensors used in a certain nano-capsule. The “smart dust” had helped those researchers to solve a very vexing problem.
Medical researchers had long struggled with development of a treatment for ovarian cancer. Most of the known treatments damaged more than just cancer cells. They did harm to hair follicle cells and the cells in the digestive tract. Researchers needed a “magic bullet.” Women of Berkeley, California joined women the world over in hoping for the discovery of such a bullet.
Those women did not know that the lab at the University had in fact produced something that could be used in a “magic bullet.” The extra sensors on the new nano-capsule seek out body areas with a low pH. Such acidic regions generally exist close to cancerous tumors. The material in the nano-capsules has been designed to break down when in such an acidic environment. As the nano-capsule breaks down, it then releases a cancer-killing substance.
Although the first announcements about the nano-capsules were posted on a web site for technology lovers, news about the nano-capsules has now found its way to an Internet forum for women. No doubt, some of the women in Berkeley could well learn from that forum about how their own University has contributed to the fight against ovarian cancer. No doubt such women would be pleased to see that their community had again gained recognition within the scientific community.