Scientists Create Sensor That Can Track What You Eat


For those looking to track how they eat more closely, a new technology invented by researchers at the Tufts University School of Medicine in Massachusetts could have the answer. Scientists created a miniature sensor that can be mounted directly onto teeth to monitor eating habits.

The sensor can transmit information via radio signals to a mobile device and provide insights into sugar, salt and alcohol consumption. The sensor measures two millimeters by two millimeters that is specially made to adhere to the surface of a tooth.

Three layers compose the sensor, according to a Tufts press release. A bioresponsive layer absorbs and detects chemicals and nutrients, and changes color based on the wearer’s eating habits, while two outer layers are made of square-shaped gold rings.

If a wearer eats a diet heavy in salt, the sensor’s electrical properties can change and the sensor will transmit various frequencies based on its absorption. Fiorenzo Omenetto, a co-author of the sensor’s study and the Frank C. Doble Professor of Engineering at the university, said the sensor is unlike previous technological attempts to track dietary intake.

“In theory we can modify the bioresponsive layer in these sensors to target other chemicals – we are really limited only by our creativity,” he said in the press release. “We have extended common RFID [radiofrequency ID] technology to a sensor package that can dynamically read and transmit information on its environment, whether it is affixed to a tooth, to skin, or any other surface.”

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The study demonstrates how the sensor works, and how its bioresponsive layer is created from a porous silk film and a hydrogel that swells when exposed to various pH levels and temperatures. The authors suggested that the sensors could be used in a variety of ways.

“Such sensors can be easily multiplexed and yield data-rich temporal information during the diffusion of analytes within the trilayer structure,” the authors wrote. “This format could be extended to a suite of interlayer materials for sensing devices of added use and specificity.”

The research was published in Advanced Materials and supported by the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, the National Institutes of Health National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, and the Office of Naval Research.