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with human skin
for instance, could detect and transmit
muscle activity that represents words,
all without the person making a sound.
The superthin electronic skin wrinkles,
puckers and stretches just like the body’s
skin, making it less intrusive than the
bulky wires and cumbersome electrodes
typically used to monitor vital signs.
The adhesive electronics pick up
signals from people’s heartbeats when
stuck on the chest, skeletal muscle activity when stuck on the leg and brain waves
when stuck on the forehead.
In the study, signals from the body
traveled from the device along a thin wire
to a computer. The patches collected
data accurately for up to six hours, and
showed no signs of degradation or irritation to the arm, neck, forehead, cheek
or chin after 24 hours. The researchers
think this life span could be extended,
particularly if a strong adhesive is used.
But Rogers points out that long-term use
of the device is limited because skin cells
periodically slough off.
The researchers plan to improve the
technology by enabling wireless communication and adding ways to store power.
The device already has the capability to
get power from wireless coils and solar
cells. In the future, such electronics
could be designed to power themselves
with stray electromagnetic signals or
even energy from body heat.
Stretchable, nonintrusive monitors
could be particularly helpful for premature babies, Rogers says. The electrodes
and monitors now used to track neonatal
babies’ vital signs are large and may irritate fragile newborn skin.
Such monitors might also help people undergoing sleep studies. The bulky
electrodes that measure brain waves
often interfere with the sleep the doctors are trying to evaluate.
The potential medical applications of
the flexible electronics aren’t limited to
monitoring. The electronics could offer
better control of prosthetic limbs and
ways for people with larynx disease to
COURTESY OF J. ROGERS