Printed Electronics Open Way for Electrified Tattoos and Personalized Biosensors


2 digitally active leads straight printed along the underside of Duke college student Nick Williams’s pinky effectively illuminate an LED when a voltage is used.

Electrical engineers at Duke University have actually designed a totally print-in-place method for electronics that is mild enough to deal with fragile surface areas consisting of paper and human skin. The advance might allow innovations such as high-adhesion, ingrained electronic tattoos and plasters dressed up with patient-specific biosensors.

The strategies are explained in a series of documents released online July 9 in the journal Nanoscale and on October 3 in the journal ACS Nano.

“When people hear the term ‘printed electronics,’ the expectation is that a person loads a substrate and the designs for an electronic circuit into a printer and, some reasonable time later, removes a fully functional electronic circuit,” stated Aaron Franklin, the James L. and Elizabeth M. Vincent Partner Teacher of Electrical and Computer System Engineering at Duke.

“Over the years there have been a slew of research papers promising these kinds of ‘fully printed electronics,’ but the reality is that the process actually involves taking the sample out multiple times to bake it, wash it or spin-coat materials onto it,” Franklin stated. “Ours is the first where the reality matches the public perception.”

“Some of the more exotic applications include intimately connected electronic tattoos that could be used for biological tagging or unique detection mechanisms, rapid prototyping for on-the-fly custom electronics, and paper-based diagnostics that could be integrated readily into customized bandages.”

The idea of so-called electronic tattoos were very first established in the late 2000s at the University of Illinois by John A. Rogers, who is now the Louis Simpson and Kimberly Querrey Teacher of Products Science and Engineering at Northwestern University. Instead of a real tattoo that is injected completely into the skin, Rogers’s electronic tattoos are thin, versatile spots of rubber which contain similarly versatile electrical elements.

The thin movie adheres to skin similar to a short-term tattoo, and early variations of the versatile electronics were made to consist of heart and brain activity screens and muscle stimulators. While these kinds of gadgets are on their way to commercialization and massive production, there are some arenas in which they’re not well matched, such as when direct adjustment of a surface area by including custom-made electronics is required.

“For direct or additive printing to ever really be useful, you’re going to need to be able to print the entirety of whatever you’re printing in one step,” stated Franklin. “Some of the more exotic applications include intimately connected electronic tattoos that could be used for biological tagging or unique detection mechanisms, rapid prototyping for on-the-fly custom electronics, and paper-based diagnostics that could be integrated readily into customized bandages.”

In the July paper, Franklin’s laboratory and the lab of Benjamin Wiley, teacher of chemistry at Duke, established an unique ink including silver nanowires that can be printed onto any substrate at low temperature levels with an aerosol printer. It yields a thin movie that keeps its conductivity with no more processing. After being printed, the ink is dry in less than 2 minutes and maintains its high electrical efficiency even after sustaining a 50 percent flexing stress more than a thousand times.

In a video accompanying the very first paper, college student Nick Williams prints 2 digitally active leads along the underside of his pinky finger. Towards completion of his finger, he links the cause a little LED light. He then uses a voltage to the bottom of the 2 printed leads, triggering the RESULTED IN remain lit even as he flexes and moves the finger.

In the 2nd paper, Franklin and college student Shiheng Lu take the conductive ink an action even more and integrate it with 2 other elements to produce practical transistors. The printer initially puts down a semiconducting strip of carbon nanotubes. Once it dries, and without eliminating the plastic or paper substrate from the printer, 2 silver nanowire leads that extend numerous centimeters from either side are printed. A non-conducting dielectric layer of a two-dimensional product, hexagonal boron nitride, is then printed on top of the initial semiconductor strip, followed by a last silver nanowire gate electrode.

With today’s innovations, a minimum of among these actions would need the substrate to be gotten rid of for extra processing, such as a chemical bath to wash away undesirable product, a solidifying procedure to guarantee layers don’t blend, or a prolonged bake to eliminate traces of natural product that can disrupt electrical fields.

However Franklin’s print-in-place needs none of these actions and, regardless of the requirement for each layer to dry entirely to prevent mixing products, can be finished at the most affordable general processing temperature level reported to date.

A printer deposits two grey lines onto a pinky, which in turn light up an LED Duke college student Nick Williams prints 2 digitally active leads along the underside of his pinky finger, puts little LED light in between them, and uses a voltage to reveal the circuit remains undamaged even when he flexes his finger.

“Nobody thought the aerosolized ink, especially for boron nitride, would deliver the properties needed to make functional electronics without being baked for at least an hour and a half,” stated Franklin. “But not only did we get it to work, we showed that baking it for two hours after printing doesn’t improve its performance. It was as good as it could get just using our fully print-in-place process.”

Franklin doesn’t see his printing technique changing massive production procedures for wearable electronics. However he does see a possible worth for applications such as quick prototyping or scenarios where one size doesn’t fit all.

“Think about creating bespoke bandages that contain electronics like biosensors, where a nurse could just walk over to a work station and punch in what features were needed for a specific patient,” stated Franklin. “This is the type of print-on-demand capability that could help drive that.”

This work was supported by the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Study Program (W81XWH-17-2-0045), the National Institutes of Health (1R21HL141028) and the National Science Structure (ECCS-1542015).

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