Mind & Matter


Electronic Tattoo Monitors Human Organs

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An electronic sensor developed to monitor the heart. Photo by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Philips made waves when it announced its electronic tattoo film, designed to sense and respond to human interaction. Now, scientists at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Northwestern University have devised a ‘tattoo’ for use within the human body. "We're trying to bridge that gap, from silicon, wafer-based electronics to biological, 'tissue-like' electronics, to really blur the distinction between electronics and the body," says UIUC’s John Rogers.

Rogers and Northwestern University colleague Yonggang Huang imagine the deep integration of electronic sensors and human organs, with the potential to detect and possibly prevent serious problems like strokes or seizures. In the past, this goal has been stymied by the incompatibility between biological tissue and brittle electronic materials.

However, Rogers and Huang have recently developed elastic electronics using hair-thin silicon that can bend flexibly inside the human body. "As the skin moves and deforms, the circuit can follow those deformations in a completely noninvasive way," states Rogers. In a prototype devised to monitor heart muscle, Rogers states that the elastic insertion is “designed to accommodate the motion of the heart but at the same time keep active electronics into contact with the tissue.”



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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.