New Form of Electronics Helps Draw Multifunctional Sensors, Circuits on the Skin

Researchers have designed a new kind of electronics called “drawn-on-skin electronics” that help draw multifunctional circuits and sensors on the skin using an ink pen.

Cunjiang Yu, Bill D. Cook Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, led a team reporting a new form of electronics known as “drawn-on-skin electronics,” which allows multifunctional sensors and circuits to be drawn on the skin with an ink pen. Image Credit: University of Houston.

The team was headed by Cunjiang Yu, Bill D. Cook Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Houston.

Reported in the Nature Communications journal, this latest breakthrough helps collect health data that is more accurate and free from motion artifacts, thus overcoming the age-old issue of collecting accurate biological data via a wearable device when the subject is moving.

When a FitBit incorrectly registers 4000 steps rather than 4200, this inaccuracy may not be significant. However, sensors that are specifically developed to check temperatures, heart function, and other physical signals should be precise if they need to be used for treatment and diagnostics.

The drawn-on-skin electronics can smoothly gather information, irrespective of the movements of the wearer. Besides this, it offers other benefits, like easy fabrication methods, that remove the need for specialized equipment.

It is applied like you would use a pen to write on a piece of paper. We prepare several electronic materials and then use pens to dispense them. Coming out, it is liquid. But like ink on paper, it dries very quickly.

Cunjiang Yu, Bill D. Cook Associate Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Houston

Wearable bioelectronics, which comes in the form of soft and flexible patches fixed to the skin, has become a crucial way to track, prevent, and treat injuries and illnesses by monitoring the wearer’s physiological data.

However, motion artifacts can limit even the most flexible wearables, and when the sensor does not move accurately with the skin, it makes it more difficult to collect information.

The drawn-on-skin electronics can be tailored to gather different kinds of data, and according to Yu, it is believed to be particularly handy in circumstances, such as on a battleground, where it is impossible to access advanced equipment.

Yu added that the electronics are capable of tracking heart rate, muscle signals, skin hydration, and temperature, among other physical data. Moreover, the scientists reported that drawn-on-skin electronics have the potential to speed up the healing of wounds.

Besides Yu, other scientists who contributed to the study are Faheem Ershad, Anish Thukral, Phillip Comeaux, Yuntao Lu, Hyunseok Shim, Kyoseung Sim, Nam-In Kim, Zhoulyu Rao, Ross Guevara, Luis Contreras, Fengjiao Pan, Yongcao Zhang, Ying-Shi Guan, Pinyi Yang, Xu Wang, and Peng Wang, all from the University of Houston.

Jiping Yue and Xiaoyang Wu from the University of Chicago were also involved in the study.

The drawn-on-skin electronics contain three inks that act as a dielectric, semiconductor, and conductor.

Electronic inks, including conductors, semiconductors, and dielectrics, are drawn on-demand in a freeform manner to develop devices, such as transistors, strain sensors, temperature sensors, heaters, skin hydration sensors, and electrophysiological sensors.

The Researchers, University of Houston

The study was financially supported by the Office of Naval Research and the National Institutes of Health.

Journal Reference:

Ershad, F., et al. (2020) Ultra-conformal drawn-on-skin electronics for multifunctional motion artifact-free sensing and point-of-care treatment. Nature Communications.


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