Vodka and texting, though not always the safest combination, could allow people to communicate when conventional wireless technology fails, according to scientists who used an evaporated form of the drink to text the message "O Canada" across their lab.

"We believe we have sent the world's first text message to be transmitted entirely with molecular communication," said York University doctoral candidate Nariman Farsad, who led the experiment, which used various concentration levels of the alcohol molecules to encode their message via binary code. 

Chemical signalling, though new in terms of technological communication between humans, is found throughout nature. It's how bees warn of a threat to the hive and the Canadian Inyx marks its territory, to name just a few examples.

The recent study, published in the journal PLOS One, transferred the chemical signal four meters with the help of a fan. A receiver then measured the rate of change in concentration of the alcohol molecules in order to decode the message.

Though neither the device nor the technology are set to replace traditional texting any time soon, they do have their advantages.

"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," said Professor Andrew Eckford. It was in Eckford's lab in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science located in Lassonde School of Engineering that the experiment was conducted.

Perhaps even more importantly, the experiment sets a precedent, offering proof of what can be done, said engineering professor Weisi Guo at the University of Warwick.

"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," he said. Guo jumpstarted the study during a meeting with Eckford a year ago.

"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," Guo said.