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'Smart' Paper Could Be Low Cost Way To Detect Water Leaks

Mark Stone
University of Washington
Anthony Dichiara, a University of Washington professor in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences holds a piece of "smart" paper.

When you think of a smart gadget, you probably think of a phone or an appliance. But, how about a piece of paper? That’s what a team of scientists at the University of Washington have developed. And they say its use could range from manufacturing to medicine. Researcher Anthony Dichiara says, unlike your average piece of notepaper, what he helped design can conduct electricity and detect water.

Why, you might wonder, would a piece of paper that did that be useful?

Diachiara says, think about a public utility with a complex network of pipes. Usually, he says, the water pressure drops and you know there’s a leak but have to spend time and money tracking it down, often taking piping apart.

With smart paper, a leak on the paper would trigger and submit a signal identifying the location of the problem.

“You would know immediately exactly where it’s coming from,” Dichiara said.

Dichiara says he’s also had interest from people in the field of medicine who could see smart paper being used to detect things like humidity in breathing machines.

He says an attractive thing about paper is that it’s a fairly low cost tool.

And, he says, the smart paper is environmentally friendly, made with wood fibers and carbon. No petroleum is used.

Dichiara says if the paper can be made to scale and demand takes off, it could even help bring back jobs in the pulp and paper industry in the Pacific Northwest. 

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.