Mind & Matter


Super Skin

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Transparent, stretchable sensor made of carbon nanotubes. Photo: Stanford University.


Although much of the attention paid to carbon nanotubes concerns the strength of this particular form of carbon, the nanotube structure promises a variety of intriguing characteristics. Researchers at Stanford University have recently developed a skin-like material of carbon nanotubes that is transparent and stretchable. An outcome of Stanford professor Zhenan Bao’s search for a synthetic "super skin," the new elastic sensor may be stretched to over two times its original size without deformation, and can detect a wide variety of pressures.

The new material is comprised of single-walled carbon nanotubes that are deposited in a liquid suspension onto stretchable silicone. According to Stanford postdoctoral researcher Darren Lipomi, "This sensor can register pressure ranging from a firm pinch between your thumb and forefinger to twice the pressure exerted by an elephant standing on one foot. None of it causes any permanent deformation."

Potential applications include touch-sensitive computer displays, prosthetics, bandages, and robotic devices.




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.