Microchips: Five life-changing uses for the future

How the tiny tech is shaping more than just our gadgets

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first patent for microchip technology

It's a part of the tech world we often take for granted, but the microchip continues to influence more than just the innards of our beloved smartphones, tablets, computers.

Today sees the 50th anniversary of the first patent for microchip technology, belonging to a Mr Robert Noyce, the man who would go on to co-found Intel. The microchip in question, the Fairchild IC contained one transistor switch, three resistors and a capacitor.

50 years on, and you can expect to find chips packed with billions of transistors helping today's cutting edge tech deliver wireless connectivity, image sensing and a raft of new capabilities.

The UK continues to be at the forefront of microchip development according to Dr. Derek Boyd, CEO of NMI, so to salute our most innovative minds, here's five future uses of microchip technology that could change the way we live our lives.

Clean water

Plessey Semiconductor, in collaboration with Cambridge University, is developing an LED that uses Gallium Nitride to release light at wavelengths lethal to bacteria - 265nm.

Essentially that means the low cost technology powered by solar cells could be adopted in developing economies or disaster zones to create clean drinking water, and in the developed world to replace chlorine sterilisation methods. Additional uses include the sterilisation of medical instruments.

The hope is that the technology will be available during this decade.

High-speed rail lines

The University at Southampton are hard at work developing accelerometer chips that are capable of detecting weaknesses in high-speed rail networks. The highly sensitive chips monitor how a section of track behaves whilst a train is on it. Any changes in behaviour can be used to determine changes in its structural integrity.

ker DNA analysis

Set to feature in a distant episode of CSI, a chip is currently in development which will deliver details such as DNA amplification, sequencing and analysis in minutes rather than days it currently takes.

Professor Chris Toumazou, founder and CEO of Toumaz Technologies and DNA Electronics is currently working on the chip technology that could also have wider impact in the fields of medicine, agriculture and pharmacology.

Ocean pollution analysis

Helping to keep an eye on our natural reserves, researchers at Southampton University have created a chip to detect nutrients and pollutants at the ultra low concentrations found in the ocean.

Developed in collaboration with the National Oceanography Centre, the 'lab on chip' is capable of capable of measuring temperature, salinity, and the concentrations of nitrites, nitrates, phosphate, iron and manganese.

Racehorse injuries

Grand Nationals of the future could be a safer place for our four legged friends as The Royal Veterinary College looks into the development of systems based on Mems accelerometer chips that analyse the gait pattern of individual horses. By monitoring for small changes in these patterns it may be possible to identify and rest injuries earlier. The technology could also be applied to professional athletes.