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Super-thin wearable sensor monitors health, transmits data

Researchers at the University of Illinois have created a way to print micro devices directly to the skin that can be used to track health and monitor healing, as well as other measurements.

According to the MIT Technology Review, “epidermal electronics” such as the ones developed John Rogers, a material scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, essentially consists of ultra-thin electrodes, electronics, sensors as well as wireless communication systems. Early prototypes had used a polymer to attach the sensors the surface of a users’ skin, though Rogers and his team have now come up with a more resilient solution.

“What we’ve found is that you don’t even need the elastomer backing,” Rogers said in the MIT report. “You can use a rubber stamp to just deliver the ultrathin mesh electronics directly to the surface of the skin.”

The team has also used spray-on-bandage products to add another layer of protection to the device, which can be worn up to a fortnight before a user’s body forces the sensor to come loose.

There are many obvious applications in medicine and sports for this type of sensor, and Rogers hopes this new measurement device could be commercialized by MC10, a company he founded in 2008.

During a recent TEDx conference, Associate Professor in the Department of Bioengineering at UCSD, Todd Coleman — a colleague of Rogers’ — discussed epidermal electronics and Rogers’ work as well as the use of this technology, giving examples of monitoring pregnant women, premature babies and the diagnosis of cognitive deficits in aging populations.

“If we think about biological systems – like the outside of our body – they are soft, curvilinear and elastic, whereas the building blocks of electornic systems – electronic circuits – are semiconductor wafers which are rigid planar and brittle,” Coleman said in his presentation. “It’s about as polarizing as the state of affairs in politics right now in America.”


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