Researchers develop featherweight chips that dissolve in water
The chips could one day be applied to the skin, heart or brain to diagnose and treat illnesses
IDG News Service - Researchers in the U.S. have developed integrated circuits that can stick to the skin like a child's tattoo and in some cases dissolve in water when they're no longer needed.
The "bio chips" can be worn comfortably on the body to help diagnose and treat illnesses, said John Rogers, a professor of materials science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who described the research at an IEEE conference in San Francisco on Monday.
He and his students are working at the intersection of biology and electronics, experimenting with elements and compounds to come up with "epidermal electronics" that are soft and flexible, yet durable enough to be worn like a second skin.
The circuits are so thin that when they're peeled away from the body they hang like a sliver of dead skin, with a tangle of fine wires visible under a microscope. Similar circuits could one day be wrapped around the heart like "an electronic pericardium" to correct irregularities such as arrhythmia, Rogers said.
Silicon is usually too rigid to be molded to the body, but sliced to a nanometer thick, or a billionth of a meter, it becomes a "floppy" membrane that can bend and twist, Rogers said. It's still fragile, however, so it needs to be laid on a rubber-like substrate that gives it strength. And it still won't stretch, so the researchers form the circuits into ribbed structures that can flex back and forth like an accordion.
The circuits can be applied like a child's temporary tattoo, Rogers said, by laying them on the skin and washing off a thin, soluble backing. The resulting circuit is about 5 microns thick and can stretch by about 30 percent, equivalent to how much skin will stretch.
To show the technology, Rogers rolled up his sleeve during his talk and, using a microscope and an overhead projector, revealed a circuit stuck on his arm. It looked like a clear tattoo, with a spaghetti-like mass of wires embedded in the surface.
The researchers are also working on "transient" circuits that dissolve in water when they're no longer needed. Some are variations of the tattoo-like circuits but they can also take other forms.
Silicon, it turns out, is soluble in water when it's sliced thin enough, and a sliver of silicon 35 nanometers thick will dissolve in about two weeks, Rogers said. The substrate can be made from silk, magnesium, silicon dioxide or some other material that also becomes soluble when thin enough.
The soluble circuits have less of silicon, magnesium and other minerals than are in a daily vitamin pill, so they are safe in the body, Rogers said. To illustrate his point, he produced and then ate a tiny RF oscillator 5 millimeters across.
One possible application of the soluble electronics is to help prevent infections forming at surgical sites. A device could be implanted in the wound and programmed to emit bursts of heat sufficient to kill off bacteria. Because the device dissolves, there's no need for further surgery -- and further risk of infection -- to remove it.
Soluble electronics could also be used for non-medical purposes, such as environmental monitors at a chemical spill that eventually dissolve. Or they could be used in consumer electronics to reduce hazardous waste.
Rogers received the US$500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize in 2011 for his work in bio-electronics.
- 18 Hot IT Certifications for 2014
- CIOs Opting for IT Contractors Over Hiring Full-Time Staff
- 12 Best Free iOS 7 Holiday Shopping Apps
- For CMOs Big Data Can Lead to Big Profits
- Slideshow: 5 ways to lock down your mobile device
- Slideshow: 10 mistakes companies make after a data breach
- How to rob a bank: A social engineering walk through
- Which smartphone is the most secure?
Currently, the FDA does not regulate consumer medical apps, so, like the supplement industry, it’s a buyer-beware situation. Without rigorous clinical trials, there is no way to know which, if any, of these apps will actually improve health outcomes. Since few of these apps have been tested in clinical trials, their efficacy and safety are largely unknown.
- IT Certification Study Tips
- Register for this Computerworld Insider Study Tip guide and gain access to hundreds of premium content articles, cheat sheets, product reviews and more.
- Healthcare Firm Ramps Up for Claims Processing Spikes
- Huge increases in claims processing loads and stringent SLAs for Medicaid patients prompted Molina Healthcare to enhance their IT infrastructure with VCE.
- The Telemedicine Revolution: Patients Can't Wait
- How high bandwidth, low latency ethernet communications is changing the practice of medicine. Comcast Ethernet offers the robust, scalable backbone for telemedicine for...
- Escape Plan: How Integrated IT Portfolio Management Helps Organizations Clear the Chaos
- Meaningful Use, ICD-10 compliance, EMR Implementation--do you feel lost in this ever-growing jungle?
- Data Center Insight: 6 ways to Prevent Mistakes that Have Cost others Millions
- Six Common and Costly Myths that surround Data Center transformation
- Bridging the IT Gap: A Fresh Approach to Infrastructure Management
- Discover the three key requirements create the foundation for a management environment that is poised to meet the challenges of a new era... All Healthcare IT White Papers
- Modernizing SAP environments with minimum risk - a path to Big Data Hear from top IDC analyst, Richard Villars, about the path you can start taking now to enable your organization to get the benefits...
- Vblock™ Specialized System for SAP HANA® Overview video from DJ Long about the new Vblock Specialized System for SAP HANA®.
- The Power of the Citrix Mobility Solution, XenMobile Does everything become a smartphone? Or does the smartphone begin to do everything? How can we afford to support BYOD? Rather, how can...
- BYOD Happens: How to Secure Mobility How to navigate the journey of securing mobility, including the BYOD corruption of IT, the top ten mobility strategies, and the mobility management...
- Fighting Fraud Videos: IBM Intelligent Investigation Manager Short videos about IBM Intelligent Investigation Manager (IIM) for Fraud. IIM optimizes the investigation of fraud for customers across many industries in both...
- All Healthcare IT Webcasts
Johns Hopkins, OhioHealth, Kaiser Permanente and other top healthcare organizations each won a place on Computerworld's Best Places to Work in IT 2013 list. Honorees say the distinction helps them both recruit and retain top talent.
Want to join this elite group? Nominate your organization for our 2014 list.