Boundary-crossing innovation: antennas in your skin!

Technology innovation often happens serendipitously, and the kind I like best is when something from one knowledge domain triggers an analogous design in a completely different field. I mean, inventing a plane with wings because you notice that birds have wings is OK, but not a huge leap (the real leap of the early aviation pioneers was ignoring the flapping of bird wings). It’s more interesting if you observe how fish swim and end up inventing sliced bread!

So, here’s one that really crosses domains. My friend Ronny – Prof. Aharon Agranat of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem – and his colleague Prof. Yuri Feldman have just made headlines with the discovery that you can read the state of sweating on human skin at a distance by beaming Sub-Terahertz waves at it and analyzing the reflected waves. This could have useful applications in a variety of fields, from medicine to security, given that sweating patterns correlate to various biomedical conditions. But the part I like is how they arrived at this development…

Ronny and Yuri were looking at new imaging data that showed that the sweat pores in the skin are not straight tubes but helical. Weird design choice??? but some antennas used for communications are also helical. So, click! – as Ronny says in an interview, “When you look at this through the eyes of an electrical engineer, it is very familiar… it immediately ignited the thinking that perhaps they also behave as helical antennas”.

Immediately, that is, if you have that innovative talent to generalize across domains boundaries!

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