microfliers flying microchips John Rogers Northwestern University
The flying microchips are each the size of a grain of sand. [Image courtesy of the Rogers Research Group/Northwestern University]

Northwestern University engineers have created what they claim are the smallest-ever human-made flying structures — winged microchips that could monitor the air for disease and pollution.

Engineering professor John Rogers and his team at Northwestern drew on inspiration from nature to create the microchips, which are the size of a grain of sand. The chips do not have engine-driven propellers. Instead, their wings catch the wind like maple tree or dandelion seeds; the most direct inspiration came from the star-shaped seeds of the tristellateia plant, a flowering vine.

The research appeared on the cover of the September 23 issue of Nature.

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