In the Future Vital Signs May Be Monitored by Electronic ‘Skin Tattoos’

Scientists announced Friday that it may soon be possible to have an invisible patch placed on the skin as a means of transmitting important vital signs.

“We threw everything in our bag of tricks onto that platform, and then added a few other new ideas on top of those, to show that we could make it work,” stated John Rogers, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “It’s a technology that blurs the distinction between electronics and biology.”

Researchers said they hope it can one day completely replace the bulky health monitoring equipment currently used in hospitals. The patches are already able to monitor the heart, as well as various other muscles and brain activities.

To manufacture the devices, researchers used silicon wafers that were then cut into flexible shapes so they could also be pulled, stretched and elongated (in order to match human biology), and then shaped into circuits and bonded to a soft sheet of silicone rubber. There are also tiny solar cells which can generate their own power or obtain energy from electromagnetic radiation.

“We borrowed ideas from the temporary tattoo industry and used a flexible plastic backing that can wash away later,” Mr. Rogers said.

The researchers demonstrated their innovation through a series of electronic components mounted on a thin, rubbery substrate, including sensors, LEDs, transistors, radio frequency capacitors, wireless antennas, and conductive coils and solar cells for power. After thoroughly testing the device, the researchers found that it gave readings for brain, heart, and muscle activity just as accurately as did traditional electrode-based systems.

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