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Stretchable electronics - a new way to monitor health using microfluidics

by Kathy Chambers on Tue, 19 Aug, 2014

Thanks to microfluidics, you may soon be able to easily and continually monitor your health with the help of Northwestern University’s new wearable, stretchable monitors. Yonggang Huang, a Northwestern University professor, and John A. Rogers, a University of Illinois professor, have designed thin, soft, stick-on patches that stretch and move with the skin and incorporate commercial, off-the-shelf chip-based electronics for sophisticated wireless health monitoring. These microfluidic devices can be laminated onto the skin to track everyday health and wirelessly send updates to your cellphone, computer, or doctor’s office. The U.S. Department of Defense’s National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellowship of Energy, the Korean Foundation for International Cooperation of Science and Technology, and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) provided support for this work.

Microfluidics is a multidisciplinary technology that deals with the science of building microminiaturized devices with channels for the containment and flow of fluids. At least one or more of these channels will have a dimension less than 1 mm. Areas of potential use in physiological health range from neonatal intensive care monitoring to pharmaceutical monitoring, electrocardiogram testing, stress and sleep testing to fitness tracking. Many medical problems or illnesses could be prevented and medical conditions caught before their onset.

The patch developed at Northwestern University incorporates a unique microfluidic construction with a thin elastic envelope filled with fluid. The chip components are suspended in a small amount of fluid, allowing them to move about on the patch as it stretches with the motion of the wearer’s skin. Because these devices can be attached to the skin anywhere on the body, accurate measurements are possible without interfering with daily activity. High-quality data about your own human body can be recorded in real time.

Their research paper “Soft Microfluidic Assemblies of Sensors, Circuits, and Radios for the Skin is now available via subscription in the April 4 issue of Science Magazine. Soon scholarly papers resulting from DOE funding like this one will become freely available to the publilc, after a 12-month administrative interval, in DOE’s new Public Access Gateway for Energy & Science (PAGESBeta). DOE PAGESBeta, a component of the recently released DOE Public Access Plan, is a tool for providing public access to scholarly publications produced as a result of DOE research funding. 

Compact, simple, and inexpensive microfluidic devices and platforms such as these are offering new opportunities for DOE researchers to gain fresh insights to complex scientific challenges in the fields of engineering, physics, chemistry, genomics, biochemistry, biofuels, nanotechnology, biotechnology, medical diagnostics, and homeland security. Basic microfluidics science and technology and related applications are available in Dr. William Watson’s latest white paperIn the OSTI Collections: Microfluidics.” The results of many significant microfluidic research projects sponsored by DOE can be found in SciTech Connect and related DOE research and links of interest are available in the DOE Science Showcase – Microfluidics. 

 

Image credit: Northwestern University  

Related OSTI Products: DOE PAGES(Beta)

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Kathy Chambers's picture
Kathy Chambers
Senior STI Specialist, Information International Associates, Inc.