Necessity is the mother of invention, as I’m sure you’ve heard. Electronics are decreasing in size, which is great, but it does make powering these micro-gadgets increasingly difficult.
This was the challenge faced by Takao Someya and his team at the Riken Center for Emergent Matter Science in Japan, who have earned honors for their development of super-tiny, washable, wearable sensors.
They were working on a tiny, super-flexible electronic biosensor, which would be used to monitor heartbeats. The problem was they couldn’t find a good way to power it without wires. Finally, after much trial and error, they managed to pair the sensor with a photovoltaic solar cell about 10 nanometers wide. A nanometer, remember, is a billionth of a meter.
After placing their new heartbeat sensor on human skin, and placing it under a bright light, they were delighted to find that it worked. They were even more delighted when they found that it detected heart-rate signals three times better than similar sensors that used external power sources.
As it stands, the technology would be best used in an exercise science setting — to monitor hearbeats during exercise. But Fukada says that with more work the team hopes it will eventually be used in hospitals to monitor patients.
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