Near-Field Communication (NFC) is one of those technologies that feels like the future – and not just because it’s  been used in Japan for a hemidecade. Through short-range wireless transmissions, NFC helps connect physical objects to the electronic world. Something as thin as a sticker can contain an NFC tag, allowing people equipped with devices to interact, antlike, with digital pheromones.

Since I recently got a phone capable of using NFC, I’ve been eager to try it out. I nearly always have my phone on my person, making it easy to use it as a meatspace bridge. There are certainly some cool uses for NFC tags in the home and office, but I’m especially fascinated by potential applications for NFC in the laboratory. 

Since starting my PhD, I’ve been looking for ways to help apply some of today’s cutting-edge innovations to the world of science. In the lab, it’s not uncommon to see a machine that can use mere microliters of solution to detect nanomolar concentrations of DNA connected to a Dell that that can barely run Windows XP. While working in the lab, I do a lot of traveling between the physical and digital planes, and my phone is perpetually nearby. NFC presents the tantalizing possibility that my phone could serve as a portable interface to communicate with the objects around me – many of which must be disturbed as little as possible.

These are the kinds of discussions I’ve been having with Omar Seyal of Tagstand over the past few months. He’s graciously sent over some of his tags so we can work together on applying the NFC model to the scientific research environment. I’m looking forward to trying it out and sharing what works and what flops, especially when I test some of these ideas on my boss and coworkers. And if along the way we happen to test if tags still work after being frozen at -80 ºC, well, that can’t hurt either.

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