Thousands of liquid crystal data points give portable device its accuracy
A new wearable medical device can quickly alert a person if they are having cardiovascular trouble or if it’s simply time to put on some skin moisturizer, reports a Northwestern University and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign study.
The small device, approximately five centimeters square, can be placed directly on the skin and worn 24/7 for around-the-clock health monitoring. The wireless technology uses thousands of tiny liquid crystals on a flexible substrate to sense heat. When the device turns color, the wearer knows something is awry.
“Our device is mechanically invisible — it is ultrathin and comfortable — much like skin itself,” said Northwestern’s Yonggang Huang, one of the senior researchers. The research team tested the device on people’s wrists.
“One can imagine cosmetics companies being interested in the ability to measure skin’s dryness in a portable and non-intrusive way,” Huang said. “This is the first device of its kind.”
Huang led the portion of the research focused on theory, design and modeling. He is the Joseph Cummings Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Mechanical Engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.
The technology and its relevance to basic medicine have been demonstrated in this study, although additional testing is needed before the device can be put to use. Details are reported online in the journal Nature Communications.
“The device is very practical — when your skin is stretched, compressed or twisted, the device stretches, compresses or twists right along with it,” said Yihui Zhang, co-first author of the study and research assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northwestern.
The technology uses the transient temperature change at the skin’s surface to determine blood flow rate, which is of direct relevance to cardiovascular health, and skin hydration levels. (When skin is dehydrated, the thermal conductivity property changes.)
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