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New Graphene-Enabled Wearable Health Monitors

Latest technological devices are focusing on non-invasive tracking of vital signs for fitness monitoring and also for preventing typical health problems such as hypertension, heart failure, stress-related complications, and so on.


Flexible and transparent bracelet that uses graphene to measure heart rate, respiration rate, and blood pulse oxygenation continuously. (Image credit: ICFO)


Wearables based on optical detection mechanisms are turning out to be an invaluable method for reporting on the human body’s inner workings and have experienced a huge entry into the consumer market in the recent past.

Existing wearable technologies, based on non-flexible parts, do not give the required accuracy and can only track a minimal number of vital signs. To handle this issue, conformable non-invasive optical-based sensors that can determine a wider set of vital signs are at the top of the end-users’ wish list.

In a new study published in Science Advances, ICFO scientists have illustrated a new group of flexible and transparent wearable devices that are conformable to the skin and can deliver nonstop and accurate measurements of various human vital signs. These devices can measure respiration rate, heart rate, and blood pulse oxygenation, as well as exposure to UV radiation from the sun.

While the device measures the various factors, the read-out is visualized and stored on a mobile phone interface linked to the wearable through Bluetooth. Furthermore, the device can run battery-free as it is charged wirelessly via the phone.

It was very important for us to demonstrate the wide range of potential applications for our advanced light-sensing technology through the creation of various prototypes, including the flexible and transparent bracelet, the health patch integrated on a mobile phone and the UV monitoring patch for sun exposure. They have shown to be versatile and efficient due to these unique features.

Dr Emre Ozan Polat, Study First Author, ICFO

The bracelet was made in such a manner that it adapts to the skin surface and offers nonstop measurement during activity. The bracelet includes a flexible light sensor that can optically capture the variation in the volume of blood vessels, because of the cardiac cycle, and then extract various vital signs such as respiration rate, heart rate, and blood pulse oxygenation.

Secondly, the scientists demonstrated the incorporation of a graphene health patch onto a mobile phone screen, which promptly measures and shows vital signs in real time whenever a user places a finger on the screen. An exclusive feature of this prototype is that the device uses ambient light to function. This promotes low-power-consumption in these integrated wearables and thus, enables nonstop monitoring of health markers over extended periods of time.

The advanced light-sensing technology of ICFO has applied two types of nanomaterials: graphene, a very flexible and transparent material composed of one-atom-thick layer of carbon atoms, along with a light-absorbing layer composed of quantum dots. The verified technology brings a new form factor and design freedom to the wearables’ field, making graphene-quantum-dots-based devices a robust platform for product developers.

Dr Antonios Oikonomou, business developer at ICFO highlighted this by stating that “The booming wearables industry is eagerly looking to increase fidelity and functionality of its offerings. Our graphene-based technology platform answers this challenge with a unique proposition: a scalable, low-power system capable of measuring multiple parameters while allowing the translation of new form factors into products.”

We have made a breakthrough by showing a flexible, wearable sensing system based on graphene light-sensing components. Key was to pick the best of the rigid and flexible worlds. We used the unique benefits of flexible components for vital sign sensing and combined that with the high performance and miniaturization of conventional rigid electronic components.

Dr Stijn Goossens, Study Co-Supervisor, ICFO

Finally, the scientists have been able to illustrate a wide wavelength detection range with the technology, expanding the prototypes’ functionality beyond the visible range. By using the same central technology, the team has created a flexible UV patch prototype that can wirelessly convey both data and power, and working battery-free to sense the environmental UV-index.

The patch works with low power consumption and has a very efficient UV detection system that can be attached to skin or clothing, and used for tracking radiation intake from the sun, warning the wearer of any possible over-exposure.

We are excited about the prospects for this technology, pointing to a scalable route for the integration of graphene-quantum-dots into fully flexible wearable circuits to enhance form, feel, durability, and performance. Such results show that this flexible wearable platform is compatible with scalable fabrication processes, proving mass-production of low-cost devices is within reach in the near future.

Frank Koppens, Professor and Leader, Quantum Nano-Optoelectronics Group, ICFO



  1. Marc Sorenson Marc Sorenson United States says:

    Regarding the UV tracker: What we really need is a sensor that warns us when we are not getting enough sun exposure! A 20 year Swedish study demonstrated that women who were always seeking the sun had half the risk of all-cause death, compared to women who stayed indoors. A basic premises here is that sun exposure is dangerous. That premise is not true. Only burning is dangerous. Blocking too much sunlight can be much more hazardous, and the best way to avoid sun damage is to cover up or find shade when one has had enough. It is not sun exposure that causes health problems; it is sun deprivation. More information:, and read Dr. Marc Sorenson's book, Embrace the Sun.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of

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