The minute devices, which the team at MIT calls "syncells" (short for synthetic cells), might ultimately be used to monitor situations inside an oil or gas pipeline, or to search out disease while floating through the bloodstream.
The key to making such tiny devices in large quantities lies in a method the team developed for controlling the natural fracturing process of atomically-thin, fragile materials, guiding the fracture lines so that they produce tiny pockets of a expected size and shape. Implanted inside these pockets are electronic circuits and materials that can collect, record, and output data.
The system uses a two-dimensional form of carbon, graphene, which forms the outer structure of the tiny syncells. The researchers have also shown that other two-dimensional materials, such as molybdenum disulfide and hexagonal boronitride, work just as well. There are a wide range of potential new applications for such cell-sized robotic devices.