Motorola Labs, the applied research arm of Motorola (NYSE:MOT), issued a technical-sounding news release yesterday under the following headline: "Functionalizing Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes with Peptides Enables Selective Molecule Detection."

Don't feel bad if you somehow missed it. If it didn't make your eyes glaze over, it was simply easy to overlook. However, if you are an investor in Motorola -- especially if you are a long-term investor -- this is the kind of stuff that could keep you smiling well into the future.

What the news means in more practical terms is that Motorola has figured out a way to detect chemical and biological agents down to the parts-per-trillion level. This, in turn, suggests that within the next few years, the company could develop sensors capable of monitoring a host of environmental and health issues, including air and water quality, industrial chemicals and biological agents.

The benefits don't stop there, though. Because the Motorola researchers have figured out a way to use peptides to detect various chemicals without disrupting the unique electronic properties of carbon nanotubes, the devices can be used to create sensors that could be integrated into next-generation WiMAX products -- including everything from RFID chips to cell phones -- to create a powerful network that can seamlessly communicate environmental changes to other people and other devices.

For instance, one possible application would be to embed these chips in cargo ships and planes, and throughout the warehouses and loading facilities of this country's ports and airports. In this case, the chips could be used to detect the faintest hint of anthrax or sarin and then, because of their electronic capability, communicate that information to the proper authorities before those deadly agents posed an imminent danger.

Although this capability is still a few years away from the commercial marketplace, the recent news that Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) and SprintNextel (NYSE:S) have agreed to proceed with the development of WiMAX makes this latest Motorola development even more intriguing.

Why? Motorola is also a major supplier of WiMAX chipsets and infrastructure equipment. If the company can functionalize carbon nanotubes at a commercially scalable level, not only should it be able to develop chips and other infrastructure that help sense and wirelessly transmit information from the surrounding environment, investors should be able to sense a new profit stream from these ultra-sensitive sensors.

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Fool contributor Jack Uldrich is the author of two books on nanotechnology, including Investing in Nanotechnology: Think Small, Win Big. He owns stock in both Motorola and Intel. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.