Drawing sensors with a simple ball point pen powered by nanotechnology

By Michelle Dickinson 22/03/2015

What do you normally do once your ball point pen runs out?  Most people would throw them away, but now engineers at the University of California, San Diego have created a new type of refill ink for your pen that isn’t harmful allowing you to draw sensors anywhere including on your skin and on your plants!

The research published in the paper “Biocompatible Enzymatic Roller Pens for Direct Writing of Biocatalytic Materials: “Do-it-Yourself” Electrochemical Biosensors” described how the inks could function as electrodes for sensors as well as keep their properties over long periods of storage time.

Created using biocompatible polyethylene glycol to act as a binder and graphite powder to make the ink conductive, the researchers also added chitosan to help the ink stick and xylitol to stabalise the enzymes specifically added for each sensor function.

The pens open up new scope for people to draw sensors that detect pollutants and potentially harmful chemicals sensors in any location, and have proved this concept by drawing a sensor on a leaf with an ink loaded with enzymes that react with phenol (an industrial chemical) which was then connected to a pollution detector.

The next step for the sensor is to connect them wirelessly to monitoring devices and investigating how the sensors perform in difficult conditions, including extreme temperatures, varying humidity and extended exposure to sunlight.

To hear more about this technology and how it may be used, listen to my Radio Live interview here.