Graphene plus rubber as next generation body sensors...

Applications of G-bands as body monitors (left to right: finger, wrist, throat). Credit: Conor S. Boland et al./ACS NANO

The future of health care will involve processing quite a bit of personal information that will be derived from sensors monitoring vital parameters in every day activity. The problem is how to pick up these parameters, that is how to have sensors that can track them in an easy and affordable way. The transmission part is less critical since we can leverage on the ubiquitous smart phone that will take care of getting data from the sensors and relate them to the web.

Some of these sensors may be outside our body, and they are usually not very accurate. Sensors embed can be very accurate but at the same time invasive procedures are required and they are not appealing to most of us. Sensors placed on our body, contact sensors, may be a good compromise but they need to be easy to wear and they should morph seamlessly with our body and therefore be flexible to accomodate any movement.

Researchers at the University of Surrey and Dublin Trinity College have come up with a way to embed graphene into rubber bands that would fit the requirements for contact sensors. Graphene can be used as a very sensitive sensor, since it can detect any movement and convert it into a variable resistance that in turns can be used to signal the movement. A computer analyses the signals and can derive information of heart beat and respiration rate, among several others.

The rubber bands are very pliable, flexible, and adapt themselves into any shape, fitting various parts of the body (and can also be embedded in bras and undershirt). Once they are in place any deformation is transmitted and analysed.

Most important, the researchers have found a way to cheaply embed the graphene into the rubber band making these sensors affordable.

I can easily imagine a next generation of wrist watches, undergarments, straps and even glasses embedding these tiny strips to provide data.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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