Technion Scientists Pave Way for Electronic Skin

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Worth its Weight in Gold

Gold can be a dicey investment on world financial markets, but Technion scientists are reaping big gains in the lab by using the precious metal in the tiniest amounts imaginable.

Their latest advance: a new sensor containing nanoparticles of gold, which could improve diagnostic devices and even make artificial skin feel more like the real thing.

Electronic skin seeded with these amazingly small sensors would be far more sensitive to touch than current skin replacements, says research leader Prof. Hossam Haick, of the Technion Faculty of Chemical Engineering and the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute.

Prosthetic limbs sheathed in this “e-skin” could also sense changes in temperature, humidity and other environmental factors.

Scientists are still learning how to integrate electronic skin with artificial limbs and other prosthetics. And these tactile prosthetics would in turn have to be linked to the human nervous system.

“But this kind of research is progressing dramatically,” Prof. Haick says, pointing to projects such as a Swedish robot arm wired directly to the brain and other devices that can interpret neuron signals to complete tasks for an amputee or paralysis victim.

The Technion’s new sensors could be customized for many uses, Prof. Haick predicts, such as detecting engine cracks and monitoring strain on bridges. His team’s report, in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, emphasizes that they would be easily produced and run on common low-voltage batteries.

The secret? A layer of tiny gold particles placed atop a substrate of PET, the plastic used in soda bottles. These particles measure as little as five nanometers across — five billionths of a meter — connected by organic molecules with lengths that range between 1-2 billionths of a meter. As the electronic skin is bent or pressed, the sensors note changes in the level of electricity being conducted.

This conductivity is just one trait that has made gold a shining star in nanoresearch. Gold particles resist corrosion, are relatively non-toxic and are a lively catalyst in chemical reactions.

Health care offers exciting potential, with golddriven sensors able to detect a range of illnesses. Prof. Haick is already well known for the “Na-Nose,” a breath analyzer that shows promise for early diagnosis of cancer, kidney disease, Alzheimer‘s and Parkinson‘s.


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