The World’s Smallest Microchips

Scott Cooper Miami Beach

Scientists at Columbia University have worked on an extreme version of chip technology and developed the smallest single-chip system ever made.

Don’t freak out; it is not to track your whereabouts. Instead, it has been created to check your temperature and communicate outside your body with an ultrasound machine.” said Scott Cooper Miami Beach. It can be injected using a hypodermic needle and has completed wireless circuits that help monitor conditions in your body. They named the chip ‘motes,’ and it has a total volume of less than one cubic millimeter, which means it’s even smaller than a dust particle!

Your Doctor’s Appointment Just Got an Upgrade!

The World's Smallest Microchips 1

Thanks to these minuscule microchips, your next appointment will have in-depth information about your condition, which is only visible via a microscope.

Let’s paint a picture for you to understand this better. Imagine you have surgery scheduled today, but your surgeon wants to ensure your circulatory system is functioning at its optimum. Hence, a technician injects a few microchips using a hypodermic needle before the surgery. Then, the communication between your body and the outside world can begin through an ultrasound, showing that your body is prepared for the operation. Subsequently, your surgery will go smoother than expected.

The Beginning of the Future

Yes, science is phenomenal. Motes are a vision we all had; a single chip to ensure everything is working as it should inside us. Easily injectable, these chips can not only monitor our overall condition but diagnose problems as well.

Columbia University scientists have designed and developed these chips to only measure temperature – at least for now. However, per their research in the journey ‘Science Advances,’ they have predicted that they will be able to monitor everything one day, including but not limited to your glucose level, blood pressure, and respiration.

The lead researcher Ken Shepard has told Pop Mech that they are working on devices like these to change the future of ultrasonography.

How It Works

The microscopical chip, also known as ‘mote,’ has three salient features, which are as follows:

  • The power and data transmission is wireless in this chip.
  •  The integration of the interface on the chip itself, which connects the technology to the human.
  • Lastly, the microchips include a form factor, making it improvable to the human body, which is minute and inconspicuous.

How Did This Miracle Happen?

The team started their journey with a complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) to ensure that these microscopic chips have three qualities. It is quite similar to the technology you would utilize to develop chips for a car, computer, or smartphone.

The CMOS chips are formed using two semiconductors. These semiconductors are connected to a secondary voltage, making them work so that when one of the transistors is switched on, the other one is off. However, the real miracle happened by adding a microscale piezoelectric transducer. Once this is added to the chip, the ultrasound communication can start. 

The transducer converts the energy (mechanical sound waves) into readable (electrical) signals from the ultrasound machine.  To increase connectivity, the transducer is canopied with a thin layer of gold on each side. The special feature of the mote is that it includes a layer of the conductive film and a thin sheet made of copper. The lead scientist, Shepard, explained that these thin layers are added post-collection of the chips from a commercial foundry.

After adding the layers, the chips are chiseled to become small form factors and coated with a type of plastic that makes them biocompatible. The scientists used ultrasound waves via a commercial ultrasound machine to power the microchips. Typically, antennas are found on a chip like RF antennas for data transmission in a 5G station, but these microchips are a whole different story. The piezoelectric transducer functions as the ‘antenna’  in the microchips (motes).

This transducer is used due to the wavelengths of the ultrasound, which is much shorter than the radio wavelengths of an equivalent frequency.

What to Expect in the Future

Presently, Columbia University scientists have successfully demonstrated the utilization of microscopical chips to monitor body temperatures in lab rats.

To be more specific, the chips were implanted in the rats’ hind legs and brains to judge if they accurately sensed the temperature.

Human trials are still a long way to go, but Shepard and his team are confident that eventually, it will prove to be useful in monitoring other conditions inside the human body. Consequently, motes will help take vitals before surgery, locate tumors inside the body, or facilitate other therapeutic interventions.

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Embeddable microchips are typically much larger and are normally implanted just below your skin in the hands or fingers. Humans have been using these chips for over a decade and are ordinarily used by biohackers or grinders.

Implanting these chips can add to a normal human body’s capability, or in other others words, give you ‘superpower’  like abilities. For example, starting your Tesla with a wave of an arm, attracting magnetic objects, etc. These so-called cyborgs have also been the center of attention in one of the episodes of MTV’s True Life series.

Shepard and his team are not in support of using this chip for body modification. Instead, they only promote the usage of chips in controlled, clinical settings such as a hospital or a lab.

Shepard claimed that he is not fond of implanting any electronic chip in healthy individuals, at least in the foreseeable future. He believes that the risk/reward paradigm does not make sense when the end goal is body modification.


Remember that these chips use bigger antennas (RF antennas) as their communication channel with the outside world. At the same time, the newly developed small chips (motes) use a piezoelectric transducer for their communication with an ultrasound machine.

No one will rub the ultrasound gel on your body and run after you down the block to communicate with the chip. Your consent will be required to access and communicate with the chip. Hence, there is no reason for you to worry about this tiny chip with regard to your privacy.

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