Japanese scientists develop “e-skin”

Japanese scientists at the University of Tokyo have developed an ultrathin electronic skin or “e-skin” which could allow for human skin to be functionalised like a smartphone screen, according to a report by Live Science.

According to the report, the e-skin employs technology similar to how organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays are manufactured for smartphones and televisions.

The superflexible display is made from organic electronics made from carbon-based polymers. Devices made using these materials are lighter and more flexible than electronics made using inorganic materials. The challenge when working with OLEDs, however, is that these products usually degrade in air and require bulky protective coatings to shield them. This protection means the devices lose some of their flexibility.

For the e-skin, the team at the University of Tokyo developed a new method to protect the electronic components from the air but which allowed it remain flexible. The entire device is just 3 micrometers (millionths of a meter) thick and highly flexible, the researchers said.

The newly developed protective film, called a passivation layer, consists of alternating layers of inorganic silicon oxynitride and organic parylene. It shields the device from damaging oxygen and water vapour meaning it can last several days in contact with the air.

“Our e-skin can be directly laminated on the surface of the skin, allowing us to electronically functionalize human skin,” Takao Someya, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Tokyo, and author of a paper on the new device published in the journal Science Advances, was reported as saying.

“We think that functionalizing the skin may replace the smartphone in the future,” Someya said to Live Science. “When you carry an iPhone, it is a bulky device. But if you functionalize your own skin, you don’t need to carry anything, and it’s easy to receive information anywhere, anytime.”

“The scientists created both digital and analog displays that could be laminated to the skin, and all of the devices were flexible enough to distort and crumple in response to body movement, without losing their functionality,” Live Science said.

According to the researchers, such devices could be used to monitor health in future. His team also created a device consisting of red and green OLEDs and a light detector “that could monitor the concentration of oxygen in a human subject’s blood when the e-skin is laminated to the person’s finger using highly flexible adhesive tape,” the report said.

Source: Live Science

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