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Storing Data and Medicine… in Your Skin?

ElectronicskinWe are getting closer and closer to the day when it will be possible to store all your personal information in one convenient place, and use it with ease. And while this next story sounds like some kind of sci-fi technology in the making, we can assure you that it’s real. is reporting that researchers at the University of Texas in Austin have engineered a wearable device that is as thin as a temporary tattoo and can store and transmit data about the individual’s movements, receive diagnostic information and even release medicine directly into the individual’s skin. This isn’t some fancy nicotine patch either: it really is ‘electronic skin.’

The device itself is a package of stretchable nanomaterials—layer upon layer of sensors that detect temperature and motion, as well as contains resistive RAM (for data storage), microheaters, and drugs—all built into a material that mimics the softness and flexibility of the skin. It’s essentially a mini computer that you can wear on your skin. It also has the potential to one day aid patients with movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease or epilepsy, and even deliver drugs right into your system through your skin.

Now, this isn’t exactly a new breakthrough in medical engineering. Researchers have been trying to marry electronics to biology for some time now. Read up on some of our other blog posts about bioengineering.

However, the physical aspect has always been a problem for bioengineering: the body is soft, supple and curved, but modern electronics, built on silicon computer chips, are rigid and flat–likely to shatter if dropped on a sidewalk. But mechanical engineer, Nanshu Lu, and her team have created something that is not only flexible and soft, it also adheres to the skin very well.

The device is meant for long term, continuous use–both to store data and deliver medicine. The one downside is that the device only works when connected to a power supply and a data transmitter. And although some commercially available components, such as lithium batteries and radio-frequency identification tags, can do this work, they are too rigid for the soft-as-skin brand of this new electronic device, Lu says.

Nevertheless, scientists have high hopes for the future of this device. It could liberate hospitals and clinics from the clunky straps and pads that currently help monitor patients’ well-being. Along with the great strides that 3D printing has made in the medical field, this little patch of ‘electronic skin’ is a sign that medicine and engineering are moving forward in the 21st century.

photo credit: Donghee Son and Jongha Lee via

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