A printed silicon chip

Silicon ink has been a dream for decades, and now it's a reality. "Silicon is a very tough material to keep under control," says Amir Mashkoori, CEO of Kovio, based in Milpitas, California. Kovio addressed the problem in part by layering silicon ink with a solvent made of nanoparticle powder. Two thimblefuls of the powder, which is made of silver and other metals, are pictured here, magnified to show detail. Late last year, Kovio introduced its first product, a radio-frequency identification tag with a printed chip in it. Mashkoori hopes Kovio's tag will replace the bar code as a low-cost identification stamp that can be placed on almost any product.

The Road to Ubiquity

Currently, RFID tags cost roughly 10 cents each -- so it's worth it to put one on a pair of jeans but not on a bottle of water. Kovio says it could eventually sell the tags for a penny each, which could expand the market more than a thousandfold.