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Smart Plastic

By Beth Bacheldor
Oct 01, 2008—Finding contaminants in foods, chemicals or drugs during manufacture isn't easy. Most often, samples are taken randomly from batches and checked using strip tests—a manual process that can't provide continual surveillance. Now, a Texas startup hopes to change that with tiny pieces of smart plastic.

The smart plastic is actually a polymer embedded with a passive RFID tag. When placed in liquids or materials, the polymer can identify analytes—substances or chemical constituents that are determined in an analytical procedure—and convert that recognition into a measurable electronic signal that can be picked up by an RFID tag. The polymer can learn and remember the chemical and biological properties of specific analytes.

"Say you want to identify a contaminant in water or in a manufacturing process. This material can be configured to the molecule—to that contaminant—of interest," says Brian Windsor, president of Coradyn Biosystems, the Austin, Texas, startup that licensed the polymer technology from the University of Texas at Austin so it could be commercialized.

The polymer technology can look for contaminants around the clock and is effective in extreme conditions, such as the high heat often used in the chemical and food processing industries. A sensor can also be included in the system to monitor temperatures. "Simply by identifying the temperature, we can tell you more specifics about contaminants and the quality of a product," Windsor says.

The system is still in development, and Coradyn is actively pursuing partnerships with RFID companies and others to create applications that leverage the polymer technology. "We're getting ready to roll out our proof of concept to potential partners," Windsor says, "and our goal is to do that in the next couple of months."
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