Vodka can make people do strange things - especially if they also have a phone. But it can also do cool things, like demonstrating how to message people using chemical signals when conventional wireless would fail.

Researchers in the UK have successfully text messaged 'O Canada' using evaporated vodka. 

The chemical signal, using the alcohol found in vodka in this case, was sent four metres across the lab with the aid of a tabletop fan. It was then demodulated by a receiver which measured the rate of change in concentration of the alcohol molecules, picking up whether the concentration was increasing or decreasing.

 "Chemical signals can offer a more efficient way of transmitting data inside tunnels, pipelines or deep underground structures. For example, the recent massive clog in London sewer system could have been detected earlier on, and without all the mess workers had to deal with, sending robots equipped with a molecular communication system," says Professor Andrew Eckford of York University.

"We believe we have sent the world's first text message to be transmitted entirely with molecular communication, controlling concentration levels of the alcohol molecules, to encode the alphabets with single spray representing bit 1 and no spray representing the bit 0," says York  doctoral candidate Nariman Farsad, who led the experiment.

A text message using vodka. Here are the transmitter components. Credit and link:doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0082935

Though use of chemical signals is a new method in human communication technology, the biocompatible method is very common in the animal kingdom.

Bees for example use chemicals in pheromones when there is a threat to the hive, and so do the Canadian lnyx, when marking territories.

Different transmission rates and their reliability.

"Our system shows that reliable communication is possible and our work motivates future studies on more realistic modelling, analysis, and design of theoretical models and algorithms for molecular communication systems," says Engineering Professor Weisi Guo at the University of Warwick, who initiated the research during a meeting with Eckford, last year. He adds, "They can also be used to communicate on the nanoscale, for example in medicine where recent advances mean it's possible to embed sensors into the organs of the body or create miniature robots to carry out a specific task such as targeting drugs to cancer cells."

Citation: Farsad N, Guo W, Eckford AW (2013) Tabletop Molecular Communication: Text Messages through Chemical Signals. PLoS ONE 8(12): e82935. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0082935