The pH-sensing chip sits in the middle of this Pitt Innovator lapel pin. Star places a lapel pin on a table in his Eberly Hall office. Affixed to it is a microchip that he and his team have developed that may save joint implants before they’re ruined by infection. Even with his guidance, you have to squint to see the thing. Alexander Star, an associate professor of chemistry in the University of Pittsburgh’s Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, believes that this chip, which is engineered to detect pH levels in the body, will be able to alert doctors to encroaching bacterial infection, which causes acidosis, a drop in pH levels in nearby tissue. The chip, festooned with tiny carbon nanotubes (engineered segments of carbon that are efficient electrical conductors) and treated with a proprietary polymer, reads pH levels and transmits the information to a radio frequency identification reader held by a doctor. The wirelessly powered chip can be attached to implants and can stay in the body long term. One in 100 Americans have an artificial joint, Star says, “and bacterial infections are a common complication of the implant.” Infection can damage the body surrounding the implant,
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