Electronics that mimic or interact with the human body have been a subject of great interest in recent years. For instance, electronic skin are devices that mimic human skin, which have a variety of exciting potential applications such as touch-sensor-based prosthesis and robotics with human-like functionalities (humanoids). Wearable electronics are devices that can be worn by people in various forms (e.g. clothing, accessories) and is made to interact with the human body for applications like continuous health monitoring. Furthermore, electronics can even be implanted inside the human body to not only monitor but to treat illnesses. All of these applications have a tremendous potential for growth in the coming years.
Depiction of potential applications of stretchable bioelectronics: humanoid, wearable health monitoring, implantable devices
Enabling the aforementioned applications possess a great deal of challenges. Firstly, all of the devices require sensors that need to convert external stimuli (e.g. mechanical, chemical, biological) into electrical signal. It is critical that these sensors have high degree of sensitivity and specificity (i.e. selective sensitivity to one form of stimulus over other stimuli). In addition, these sensors need to have sufficient spatial and temporal response. Furthermore, the sensors and other electrical components should be stable and be benign to the surrounding environment.
Another challenging aspect is appropriate tuning of the devices’ mechanical properties. Because the devices are made to mimic or interact with the human body, which are soft, flexible, stretchable and non-planar by nature, the devices must also have similar characteristics.
Educational video for students filmed at Stanford University with Prof. Zhenan Bao.
In our group, we will utilize intrinsically stretchable materials such as carbon nanotubes and polymers to fabricate various bioelectronic devices. We will tune the properties of these materials to optimize the performance and mechanical properties of our devices for various applications. Here are some of the research topics that we are pursuing.