Stethoscopes, thermometers and X-rays are all used by doctors to find out what’s going on inside the human body. In the future, instead of bulky and sometimes uncomfortable equipment, an electronic skin might monitor your vital signs.

When designing new materials, many factors are taken into account. In the case of a material for medical monitoring equipment, these might include strength and durability, as well as making sure it’s comfortable and safe for the patient. The material also needs to be sensitive enough for health monitoring and detection.

A group of Japanese and European researchers created an extremely thin ‘e-skin’. The e-skin is only a couple of millionths of a metre thick, much thinner than a human hair, yet the skin contains electronic circuits as well as tiny sensors. These sensors could detect body temperature in patients, or other health indicators. The e-skin is so light it is barely noticeable. It is also flexible, so a patient could easily move around.

Despite being so thin and light, the e-skin is strong. The inventors claim it can be crumpled and squashed but remain undamaged. It also works in wet environments and at high temperatures.

It will be a while before such a material is used for medical purposes. New medical devices undergo strict testing to make sure they are safe for patients. Testing ensures the devices work as intended, without unacceptable side effects.

Before then, such a material could be used in other, non-medical applications. The plastic that the e-skin is made from has already been used to make solar cells, and could be used to integrate electronic circuits into a wide range of everyday objects.

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