Electronic Products & Technology

‘Drawn-on-Skin’ electronics offer breakthrough in wearable monitors

New electronics platform provides better data for personalized care

August 21, 2020  By Jeannie Kever, senior media relations specialist at University of Houston

A team of researchers at the University of Houston have developed a new form of electronics known as ‘drawn-on-skin electronics,’ allowing multifunctional sensors and circuits to be drawn on the skin with an ink pen. 

The research, led by Cunjiang Yu, Bill D. Cook associate professor of mechanical engineering, allows for the collection of more precise, motion artifact-free health data, solving the long-standing problem of collecting precise biological data through a wearable device when the subject is in motion.

The imprecision may not be important when your FitBit registers 4,000 steps instead of 4,200, but sensors designed to check heart function, temperature and other physical signals must be accurate if they are to be used for diagnostics and treatment.

The drawn-on-skin electronics are able to seamlessly collect data, regardless of the wearer’s movements. It also offers other advantages, including simple fabrication techniques that don’t require dedicated equipment.

“It is applied like you would use a pen to write on a piece of paper,” said Yu. “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 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. Source: University of Houston

Wearable bioelectronics – in the form of soft, flexible patches attached to the skin – have become an important way to monitor, prevent and treat illness and injury by tracking physiological information from the wearer. But even the most flexible wearables are limited by motion artifacts, or the difficulty that arises in collecting data when the sensor doesn’t move precisely with the skin.

The drawn-on-skin electronics can be customized to collect different types of information, and Yu said it is expected to be especially useful in situations where it’s not possible to access sophisticated equipment, including on a battleground.

The electronics are able to track muscle signals, heart rate, temperature and skin hydration, among other physical data, he said. The researchers also reported that the drawn-on-skin electronics have demonstrated the ability to accelerate healing of wounds. 

Faheem Ershad, a doctoral student in the Cullen College of Engineering, served as first author for the paper.
Source: University of Houston

The drawn-on-skin electronics are actually comprised of three inks, serving as a conductor, semiconductor and dielectric.

“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 wrote.


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