Matrix symbols -- small, square-shaped marks resembling a checkerboard - have been applied on more than 80 different materials, including metal, plastics, glass, paper, fabric and ceramics. Capable of storing as much as 100 times the information as a barcode in the same amount of space, the symbols were first studied for use by NASA in 1987 to help in tracking Space Shuttle components. In 1997, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., moved to introduce the permanent marking aspect of this technology into the commercial sector. Today, the symbols can be found on items from mouthwash to mustard.
Photo credit: Doug Stoffer, NASA Marshall