Tiny environmental sensors could be applied to plants, insects, even our fingernails

tiny electronics on insects, plants
© Lee, et al. ©2014 American Chemical Society

A new breakthrough in nanotechnology has expanded the idea of wearable electronics. Ultra-thin and flexible electronics made entirely from carbon-based materials could be applied to essentially any surface, including plants, insects, fabric, paper, even our fingernails. These tiny electronics could be transistors, electrodes, interconnects, and, most promising, sensors.

Developed by researchers at Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) in Ulsan Metropolitan City, South Korea, and the Korea Electrotechnology Research Institute in Changwon, South Korea, this new type of electronics could be easily mass produced and used to detect airborne toxins and pollutants, environmental data like humidity and temperature, and human health conditions like infections and diabetes.

Phys.org reports, "The new approach takes advantage of the unique atomic geometries of carbon to synthesize entire arrays of electronic devices, specifically carbon nanotube transistors, carbon nanotube sensors, and graphite electrodes."

The electronics are made with antennas integrated in them, so wireless transmissions of power and sensing signals are possible without an onboard battery. The electronics can be applied to various surfaces by simply wetting them first. So far researchers have applied them to bamboo leaves, stag beetles, fingernails, particulate masks, protective arm sleeves, newspaper and adhesive tape.

They were able to use the sensors to successfully detect DMMP vapor, which is used in nerve agents like soma and sarin gas.

"In this paper, we just demonstrated the detection of the nerve gas using the biocompatible devices," coauthor Jang-Ung Park, Assistant Professor at UNIST, told Phys.org. "As our future research, we will develop various sensing systems, including diabetes, pollutions and radioactivity, using the wearable electronic devices."

Tiny environmental sensors could be applied to plants, insects, even our fingernails
Researchers have developed incredibly thin carbon-based electronics that could be applied to virtually any surface to detect airborne toxins and collect other environmental data.

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