THURSDAY, Aug. 11 (HealthDay News) -- An invisible patch placed on the skin much like a temporary tattoo can pick up and transmit physiological signals such as heart rate, brain waves and muscle activity.
This new advance in "wearable electronics" might one day replace the bulky wires and electrodes that are routinely used to assess body functions.
"I can't feel its presence," said John Rogers, senior author of a paper on the patch published in the Aug. 12 issue of Science, who demonstrated the two-inch-square device on his forearm during a Wednesday teleconference. "The distinction between electronics and the skin is blurred. It's much like a temporary transfer tattoo, though this has high-quality electronics embedded."
The epidermal electronic system (EES) improves on existing products and processes, many of them borrowed from Silicon Valley and the semiconductor industry.
To make the patch, the researchers first sliced a silicone wafer so thin that it became flexible and floppy like the tissue of the human body, explained Rogers, who is Lee J. Flory Founder Chair in Engineering Innovation at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The wafers were then cut into serpentine shapes so they could also be pulled, stretched and elongated, again to match human biology, then shaped into circuits and bonded to a soft sheet of silicone rubber.
The system is less than the diameter of a human hair.
"We borrowed ideas from the temporary tattoo industry and used a flexible plastic backing that can wash away later," he said.
It also attaches like a temporary tattoo, requiring no separate adhesives or gels. "You [put] it on your skin then just apply water to the backside," Rogers said. "The entire system can have properties similar to the epidermis."
Unlike human skin, though, the EES includes tiny sensors, transmitters and receivers as
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