Is There Anything Paper Can’t Do?
Is there something about paper that inspires the human imagination? I think so. While paper has been around for centuries, the “first technology” has continued to innovate right up to the present day.
Take sustainability for example. A research group at the University of California, Riverside and Shandong University in China are on the verging of inventing re-printable paper. The group has developed a coating that allows paper to be printed on, erased, and printed on again up to 80 times.
What about wallpaper that blocks WIFI but not cellphone signals? That would be useful in offices that need secure connections and hospitals where WIFI could interfere with sensitive equipment. French scientists have created just that – a wallpaper that only blocks a select set of frequencies used by wireless LANs and allows cellular phones and other radio waves to get through.
But the most exciting developments, I think, come from the world of medical diagnostics.
We know the Zika virus can be harmful to newborns and deadly to mothers, but spotting the disease usually requires the kind of laboratory you’re unlikely to find in a jungle or rural area where the virus thrives. Now there is a portable Zika test made of freeze-dried synthetic gene circuits embedded on a paper disc. The circuits are activated when the paper is rehydrated with a droplet of fluid, such as blood, urine or saliva. The paper changes color when the Zika virus is present, just like a pregnancy test.
A similar approach is behind a cancer detecting tool developed at MIT that uses nanoparticles on paper that trigger the release of biomarkers in a cancer patient’s urine.
That also happens to be the active ingredient that makes an extraordinary magazine ad from Ikea come to life. Last year, working with an ad agency and chemical company in Sweden, Ikea created an advertisement for a baby crib with an unexpected feature. The price of the crib was obscured to all . . . unless you’re pregnant.
If you were in the market for baby furniture all you had to do was urinate on the ad. And if you were pregnant at the time, a special discounted price appeared at the bottom of the page.
This year Ikea is trying to one up itself with their “Cook This Page” feature. They’ve printed recipes on large sheets of paper that double as cooking parchment. You follow the recipe by placing the ingredients of a full meal in the outline of that food marked in soluble ink on the paper. Then you roll it all up and cook it, paper and all. The result is a good looking and thoroughly delicious meal.
All of this is to show that we have not even begun to exhaust the possibilities of paper. Like perhaps no other technology, its uses are limited only by our imagination and creativity.