Tracking Human Vital Signs Using “Electronic Skin”

Researchers from Queen Mary University and the University of Sussex developed smart wearables with materials inspired by molecular gastronomy that outperformed similar gadgets in terms of strain sensitivity.

Tracking Human Vital Signs Using “Electronic Skin”

Stock image of seaweed. Image Credit: Queen Mary University of London

The researchers mixed graphene with seaweed to make nanocomposite microcapsules for highly adjustable and long-lasting epidermal electronics. When linked together, the small capsules can capture muscle, respiration, pulse, and blood pressure measures in real-time with pinpoint accuracy.

Currently, much of the research on nanocomposite-based sensors is focused on non-sustainable materials. As a result, when these devices are no longer in use, they contribute to plastic trash.

The combination of molecular gastronomy theories and biodegradable materials can be used to produce devices that are not only environmentally friendly but also have the potential to outperform conventional ones, according to a new study that was just published in Advanced Functional Materials.

Scientists developed graphene capsules comprised of a solid seaweed/graphene gel coating encasing a liquid graphene ink core using salt and seaweed, two ingredients that are frequently found in the restaurant field. With a solid seaweed/raspberry jam layer around a liquid jam core, Michelin-star restaurants use a similar approach when serving capsules.

However, unlike molecular gastronomy capsules, graphene capsules are extremely sensitive to pressure; as a result, when they are compressed or squeezed, their electrical properties are significantly altered.

They can therefore serve as highly efficient strain sensors and make it possible to create smart, skin-on wearable devices for highly precise real-time biomechanical and vital sign readings.

By introducing a ground-breaking fusion of culinary artistry and cutting-edge nanotechnology, we harnessed the extraordinary properties of newly-created seaweed-graphene microcapsules that redefine the possibilities of wearable electronics. Our discoveries offer a powerful framework for scientists to reinvent nanocomposite wearable technologies for high precision health diagnostics, while our commitment to recyclable and biodegradable materials is fully aligned with environmentally conscious innovation.

Dr. Dimitrios Papageorgiou, Lecturer, Materials Science, Queen Mary University of London

This research is now being used as a model by other labs to comprehend and modify the strain-sensing characteristics of related materials, elevating the idea of nano-based wearable devices.

Human livelihoods have been significantly impacted by the environmental effects of plastic waste; therefore, future plastic-based epidermal electronics need to shift toward more sustainable practices.

The use of recyclable and biodegradable materials in the construction of these capsules could have an effect on how wearable sensing devices are perceived and how their presence is felt.

Dr Papageorgiou, “We are also very proud of the collaborative effort between Dr Conor Boland’s group from University of Sussex and my group from Queen Mary University of London that fueled this ground-breaking research. This partnership exemplifies the power of scientific collaboration, bringing together diverse expertise to push the boundaries of innovation.

Journal Reference

Aljarid, A. K. A., et al. (2023) Smart Skins Based on Assembled Piezoresistive Networks of Sustainable Graphene Microcapsules for High Precision Health Diagnostics. Advanced Functional Materials. doi:10.1002/adfm.202303837.

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