York U molecular communication researchers send world's first text message using vodka

December 18, 2013

TORONTO, Dec. 18, 2013 -- After successfully text messaging 'O Canada' using evaporated vodka, two York University researchers and their UK-based counterpart say their simple system can be used where conventional wireless technology fails.

"Chemical signals can offer a more efficient way of transmitting data inside tunnels, pipelines or deep underground structures. For example, the recent massive clog in London sewer system could have been detected earlier on, and without all the mess workers had to deal with, sending robots equipped with a molecular communication system," says Professor Andrew Eckford, in whose lab in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science located in Lassonde School of Engineering, the experiment was conducted.

The chemical signal, using the alcohol found in vodka in this case, was sent four metres across the lab with the aid of a tabletop fan. It was then demodulated by a receiver which measured the rate of change in concentration of the alcohol molecules, picking up whether the concentration was increasing or decreasing.

"We believe we have sent the world's first text message to be transmitted entirely with molecular communication, controlling concentration levels of the alcohol molecules, to encode the alphabets with single spray representing bit 1 and no spray representing the bit 0," says York U doctoral candidate Nariman Farsad, who led the experiment.

Though use of chemical signals is a new method in human communication technology, the biocompatible method is very common in the animal kingdom. Bees for example use chemicals in pheromones when there is a threat to the hive, and so do the Canadian lnyx, when marking territories.

In an article, Tabletop Molecular Communication: Text Messages Through Chemical Signals, in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE, the researchers say their system also fills a major gap in the molecular communication literature, by providing an inexpensive platform for testing theoretical models. This allows researchers to gain real-world experience with molecular communication, cheaply and easily.

"Our system shows that reliable communication is possible and our work motivates future studies on more realistic modelling, analysis, and design of theoretical models and algorithms for molecular communication systems," says Engineering Professor Weisi Guo at the University of Warwick, who initiated the research during a meeting with Eckford, last year. He adds, "They can also be used to communicate on the nanoscale, for example in medicine where recent advances mean it's possible to embed sensors into the organs of the body or create miniature robots to carry out a specific task such as targeting drugs to cancer cells."
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NOTE: The link to the study at PLOS ONE will become live at 5pm.

York University is helping to shape the global thinkers and thinking that will define tomorrow. York's unwavering commitment to excellence reflects a rich diversity of perspectives and a strong sense of social responsibility that sets us apart. A York U degree empowers graduates to thrive in the world and achieve their life goals through a rigorous academic foundation balanced by real-world experiential education. As a globally recognized research centre, York is fully engaged in the critical discussions that lead to innovative solutions to the most pressing local and global social challenges. York's 11 faculties and 28 research centres are thinking bigger, broader and more globally, partnering with 288 leading universities worldwide. York's community is strong − 55,000 students, 7,000 faculty and staff, and more than 250,000 alumni.

Media Contact:

Gloria Suhasini, York University Media Relations, 416 736 2100 ext. 22094, suhasini@yorku.ca

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