Ultra-thin ‘tattoo’ can get right under skin

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An electronic ‘stick-on tattoo’ has been developed that can be worn almost invisibly while measuring valuable information from the heart, brain and muscles.

The ultra-thin patch, flatter than the diameter of a human hair, is packed with sophisticated electronics including tiny sensors, light-emitting diodes, transmitters and receivers.

All the components are integrated onto a polyester backing similar to those employed in stick-on tattoos.

In tests, the ‘smart skin’ device accurately recorded electrical signals from the heart, leg muscles, throat and forehead.

Researchers found that the EES (epidermal electronic systems) patch worked for 24 hours or more without irritating the skin.

The device is so thin that it needs no glue. Instead, close contact molecular forces called van der Waals interactions keep it from slipping off the skin.

Professor John Rogers, from the University of Illinois in the US, a member of the team whose research is published today in the journal Science, said: ‘Our goal was to develop an electronic technology that could integrate with the skin in a way that is mechanically and physiologically invisible to the user.

‘We found a solution that involves devices we designed to achieve physical properties that match to the epidermis itself. It’s a technology that blurs the distinction between electronics and biology.

‘We threw everything in our bag of tricks onto that platform, and then added a few other new ideas on top of those, to show that we could make it work.”

The scientists believe the device could be used to read vital signs in hospitals without the need for bulky, uncomfortable electronics.