Worldwide, the demand for sensing devices that can conform with the requirements of large-scale wireless sensor network (WSN) deployments is rising exponentially. Typically, sensors should be very low cost, low power (essentially self-sustaining), yet very rugged and reliable. At present, functioning WSN deployments involve physical transducers only, such as thermistors, accelerometers, photodetectors, flow meters, to monitor quantities like temperature, movement, light level and liquid level/flow. Remote, widely distributed monitoring of molecular targets remains relatively unexplored, except in the case of targets that can be detected directly using 'non-contact' techniques like spectroscopy. This paper will address the issues inhibiting the close integration of chemical sensing with WSNs and suggest strategies based on fundamental materials science that may offer routes to new sensing surfaces that can switch between different modes of behaviour (e.g. active-passive, expand-contract).