Are you ready for this? Used chewing gum may play an important role in the development of biosensors. It turns out, according to the American Chemical Society (ACS), that many sensors used on and in the human body to detect various phenomena are stiff solids that don’t do well when flexibility is required. They can also break under strain.
Scientists in the University of Manitoba mechanical engineering, biochemical, and genetics departments have discovered that used chewing gum — chewed for 30 minutes and left to dry overnight — when coated with carbon nanotubes (CNTs) make it a perfect substance for sensor applications that require flexibility and resistance to strain. I wasn’t able to discover the story behind the story: namely just exactly HOW the discovery that used gum would work so well. Whether it was the result of a calculated search and discovery of stretchy materials or if it was an accident, apparently the resulting combination has great promise for future applications. According to the abstract presented by the scientists from the University of Manitoba, the material can withstand strain up to 530%, has high durability, and can also be used to detect changes in humidity. Applications could range from body motion sensors to breathing detectors and other sensory applications in biochips and miniaturized sensors. (You will be pleased to know that before the gum gets its nanotube coating it’s cleaned and disinfected with ethanol.)
Scientists are often depicted as having an offbeat sense of humor, but nanotube chewing gum sensors are apparently the real deal. It’s ironic that science has now found a technological use for gum since chewing gum was discovered by accident in the mid 1800’s when scientists at that time were studying chicle for use as a substitute for rubber. Perhaps the best line of many about this stretchy new technology is in the ACS video: “Now you can chew your gum and wear it, too.”