Rubber bands + graphene = wearable sensor

20 Aug 2014

The humble rubber band could soon become a hi-tech wearable sensor with the addition of the wonder material graphene that could have a number of uses, from healthcare to fashion.

Developed by the Dublin-based AMBER research team with the help of researchers from the University of Surrey, the application of the highly conductive yet ultra-thin graphene on rubber turned it from a non-conductive element to one that could be turned into a senor.

Most importantly, the mechanical integrity of the rubber is not harmed by the application of graphene and, in fact, when an electrical current flows through it, it proved to be very strongly affected if the band was stretched.

Led by Prof Jonathan Coleman, the discovery opens up a host of possibilities for the development of wearable sensors from rubber, which could be used from a health perspective to monitor respiration, blood pressure, joint movement, and blood glucose.

Starting from the left, showing the process of applying graphene which is 10,000 smaller than the width of a human hair

The team also sees other applications of the graphene-infused rubber band sensors in the automotive industry (to develop sensitive airbags), in robotics, in medical-device development (to monitor bodily motion), and as early warning systems for cot death in babies or sleep apnoea in adults.

Speaking of its potential, Coleman said, “Biosensors, which are worn on or implanted into the skin, must be made of durable, flexible and stretchable materials that respond to the motion of the wearer.

“By implanting graphene into rubber, a flexible natural material, we are able to completely change its properties to make it electrically conductive, to develop a completely new type of sensor. Because rubber is available widely and cheaply, this unique discovery will open up major possibilities in sensor manufacturing worldwide.”

The team has published their research paper online on ACS Nano.

Rubber band image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic