•Researchers created a new type of sensor by wrapping copper wire around a silicone tube filled with iron oxide nanoparticles.
•The sensor can restore lost skin sensitivity for burn victims, amputees, and other patients.
•However, it can also detect vibrations, magnetic fields, and similar disturbances, effectively serving as an early warning system.
Burn victims, amputees, and others who have lost their skin sensitivity would certainly welcome the chance to feel things again. Aside from enabling them to function at peak efficiency, this would also help them avoid accidentally hurting themselves.
Fortunately, researchers from the University of Connecticut and the University of Toronto came up with an interesting solution: An artificial sensor that mimics the skin’s ability to detect signals from pressure, changes in the atmosphere, and other stimuli.
Putting the “Fe” in “Feeling”
Working alongside UToronto engineer Abdelsalam Ahmed, UConn chemists Islam Mosa and James Rusling assembled the sensor. They wrapped copper wire around a silicone tube filled with a special fluid. The fluid contains nanoparticles of iron oxide, each measuring just a billionth of a meter in length.
When the nanoparticles inside the tube are affected by outside forces–such as acoustic vibrations, magnetism, or pressure–they generate an electric current via rubbing. The copper wire then detects this and picks it up, treating it as a signal. This signal varies based on the outside force that generated it.
Interestingly, different activities result in variations in the current, allowing researchers to distinguish which signals were produced by which specific human activities. Additionally, the sensor is both waterproof and sealed.
“It would be very cool if it had abilities human skin does not; for example, the ability to detect magnetic fields, sound waves, and abnormal behaviors,” shared Mosa.
The researchers have yet to test whether the sensor can detect temperature shifts, but they believe that it should be able to.
But what about people who have normal levels of skin sensitivity?
The researchers believe that this technology can be used for wearable early-warning sensors and protective gear for workers in high-risk environments. It can also help parents consistently monitor the safety of their children.
“The inspiration was to make something durable that would last for a very long time, and could detect multiple hazards,” said Mosa.
At present, the researchers are attempting to flatten the prototype to create an electronic skin (or e-skin). After that, they will check if the e-skin is safe for use with human tissue. Coupled with subsequent tests, this discovery could have significant implications for disaster prevention electronics, rescue robotics, and remote health care monitoring. Letting you live out your amazing fantasies sans spider bite, of course, is a plus.
Cover photo: Mark Bagley/Marvel Comics
Author: Mikael Angelo Francisco
Bitten by the science writing bug, Mikael has years of writing and editorial experience under his belt. As the editor-in-chief of FlipScience, Mikael has sworn to help make science more fun and interesting for geeky readers and casual audiences alike.